Brother Bear<br></br>SWAT<br></br>Timeline<br></br>Bodysong<br></br>Three<br></br>Tattoo<br></br>The Late Twentieth

The bear necessities of life - minus the laughs

Disney has announced that it's giving up on hand-drawn cartoons next year to concentrate on the 3D computer graphics favoured by Pixar (Toy Story) and DreamWorks (Shrek), a move that would make Brother Bear (U) one of the last films of its kind. But the new cartoon illustrates just how misguided the company is in blaming its lacklustre recent releases on their mode of animation. It's not the artwork that's been letting them down, it's the writing.

Brother Bear is a passable cartoon. The adventure of a prehistoric North American tribesman who is turned into a species of animal you can probably predict, it's better than most of Disney's last few offerings, and while the animation never takes your breath away, it's absolutely fine. But the company seems to have forgotten what it is that small children find fun. Brother Bear is short of jokes, endearing characters, and songs you can sing along with. Instead it's got Phil Collins' stolid, vaguely ethnic soft rock, and a worthy, didactic tone. Do the directors really believe that toddlers worldwide would be devoted to The Jungle Book if it kept lecturing them, as Brother Bear does, on responsibility, forgiveness and eco-friendliness? Metaphorically speaking, Disney should go back to the drawing board.

S.W.A.T. (12A) is short for Special Weapons And Tactics, the armed-to-the-teeth division of the LAPD. Either that or it's short for "So what?" which would reflect the indifference that pervades this utterly uninspired film. Even compared to other machine-guns-and-explosions action movies, S.W.A.T. is an empty vessel. There are no new slants on the formula, no exciting stunts, and its storyline is basic: for the first hour, a team is recruited and trained, for the second hour they babysit a criminal. As for the casting, Samuel L Jackson is an unflappable veteran, Colin Farrell is a young hotshot, Michelle Rodriguez is a scowling Chica. The actors could play these roles in their sleep - and they do. S.W.A.T. is based on a 1970s TV series, but every current American cop show outshines the film in every department.

Getting back to casting, the way the roles are distributed in Timeline (12A) is just perverse. Billy Connolly appears as an archaeology professor who is flung through time to 14th-century France. Two of the people sent back to rescue him are his son, played by Paul Walker - a blonde Californian - and a colleague, played by Gerard Butler - a bearded, brawny Scotsman. Surely some mistake?

Still, the casting is the least of Timeline's troubles. Although the film is adapted from a Michael Crichton novel, you'd think they were making up the dialogue on the spot, and the plotting is agonizing: the heroes would go back to the future in the first half-hour if they weren't lumbered with such astoundingly rubbish time-travel gizmos. Over all, the film is too long, bloody, and po-faced even to function as bank holiday entertainment for kids.

Bodysong (18) compiles clips from a century of newsreels, documentaries and home movies to form a humbling collage of human life from conception and birth to ageing and death, via food, sex, religion, war and parachuting. There's no narration, but Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood provides the avant-garde score, and the director, Simon Pummell, shows his political hand by spotlighting the similarities and distinctions between cultures around the world and through the ages. Children everywhere have always held hands and danced in circles, it seems, but some have wealth that others couldn't imagine.

Lucas Belvaux's Trilogie concludes with Three (PG), a melodrama about a policeman whose wife is addicted to morphine. Powerful as it is, it'll be confusing if you haven't seen the other parts of Belvaux's triangular project, and it left me feeling that the Trilogie is a better concept than it is a set of films.

Tattoo (18) could be called Sieben, in that it's the German Seven. A darkly stylish, gruesome thriller, it follows two detectives as they prowl around a city of Stygian lighting and rumbling incidental music - all right, Berlin - on the trail of a serial killer who sells people's tattooed skin to collectors. The Late Twentieth (18) is a nasty British thriller about a crazed vigilante. It was made on a shoestring, and it looks it, but it should serve well as a calling card for its writer-director.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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