Cool-hand Paul conjures a stroke of age-old genius

Where the Money is (15) | Marek Kanievska, 87 mins Nutty Professor II:the Klumps (12) | Peter Segal, 107 mins Sorted (18) | Alexander Jovy, 105 mins
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The Independent Culture

The great barnstorming performances of the last ten years have been William H Macy's Jerry Lundegaard ( Fargo); Ralph Fiennes's Amon Goeth ( Schindler's List); Emily Watson's Bess McNeil ( Breaking the Waves); Sharon Stone's Ginger ( Casino). And Linda Fiorentino's Wendy Kroy ( The Last Seduction). The adjective that sprang to mind for Fiorentino's terrifying portrait of an amoral woman was Stanwyckian - it was that good. What happened to her after that is your usual, dismal round of semi-parts and cameos.

The great barnstorming performances of the last ten years have been William H Macy's Jerry Lundegaard ( Fargo); Ralph Fiennes's Amon Goeth ( Schindler's List); Emily Watson's Bess McNeil ( Breaking the Waves); Sharon Stone's Ginger ( Casino). And Linda Fiorentino's Wendy Kroy ( The Last Seduction). The adjective that sprang to mind for Fiorentino's terrifying portrait of an amoral woman was Stanwyckian - it was that good. What happened to her after that is your usual, dismal round of semi-parts and cameos.

Well, she's back, in Where the Money is - her radiant self in a limitless wardrobe of small dresses and big boots. Oh, the film also stars Paul Newman. He plays a one-time master bank robber, now a convict, who fakes a stroke to get out of prison. By the time he arrives at Fiorentino's nursing home, he's been pretending to be post-stroke motionless for three years. Nothing can get to him, no way. He's so inside himself, so committed to posing as numb, that he fools everybody. Except Fiorentino, who gets him to twinkle behind closed doors. Of course. Otherwise there'd be no film. Although I couldn't help thinking that it would have been something if Newman's Henry had actually had a stroke and was completely static all the way through. Hearts would break.

When he was young he was forever being beaten up in films and then offered to the camera like some Christian martyr, some Caravaggio-beauty savaged. It got to me so much (how I wanted to take the blows instead of him the first time I watched Cool Hand Luke). More than with any other American actor's, the young Newman's face forced you to think of genetics and nature and luck. Even now he's old, directors keep putting pictures of him circa Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on top of the piano or mantelpiece in the corner of the screen (besides this film, see The Verdict and Message in a Bottle). You know, some snap of him looking like a Roman emperor (the curls, the nose) in some bar or other, with his arm around a woman who's probably terribly pretty but looks so ordinary in comparison - so we won't ever, ever forget that face. And now that age has detonated those features (the blowsy-brown-lips are all, all gone), Newman's a better actor. More amiable. Less burdened.

Anyway, Fiorentino goads him and shows him her knickers (patterned, through the white nurse's uniform - a lecherous touch from a director, Marek Kanievska, rightly obsessed with Fiorentino's arse), and eventually the pair team-up and plan a heist. The only problem is Fiorentino's dumb hulk of a husband (Dermot Mulroney) who just wants to fix the car and do weights. He's a real drag. He eats eggs in that horrible, slack-jawed way that makes you want to whack him with the pan.

Where the Money is is a fun, relaxed film, and its modest ambition only adds to its ease. You get the impression that the whole thing took about four weeks to make and that everybody had pancakes together at the beginning of the day, and it wasn't really work at all. Newman flashes "Your place or mine?" looks at Fiorentino all the time, and she flashes "I'd kill you - believe me, baby" looks back, and everybody in the audience squirms with joy because the pair of them have got us now, and we know it, and all the rest is one long smile.

Eddie Murphy has never struck me as a weirdo before. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, in which he plays every character from a fat professor to a sex-mad granny, is plain odd. The plot is wholly unimportant (Janet Jackson's cleavage co-stars, putting you in mind of the American League Of Decency's 1930s definition: "a shadow between two mountains"). What does Murphy think he's up to? Is he trying to cover the whole world in comedy? All this polymathic genius stuff doesn't serve the film one bit. How needlessly exhausting to play a fat mamma with hair like an exploding armchair one minute, and then Buddy Love the next, killing us softly with his gun-fire smile. If he doesn't calm down, Murphy may need a new heart any time soon.

Sorted is all about London drugs and clubs. An innocent northerner (Matthew Rhys, good eyes) lands from planet Rochdale and is soon eating (pills) out of the hands of people who say things like: "I've got some great visual suet" (oh, go on then). Tim Curry plays a nasty man with woundingly curly hair (no change there, then). Sienna Guillory (about to become the new Audrey Hepburn, even though she's blonde) cooks spaghetti wearing one of those cashmere funnel-necks that make you feel you've gone to the party dressed as Omar Sharif in a late 1970s flick about bridge. When you start thinking things like this, you know the film is boring as hell.

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