Dream a little, cheap, mean, nasty, loony dream with me

The Cell (18) | Tarsem Singh, 110 mins Keeping the Faith (12) | Edward Norton, 129 mins Shaft (18) | (John Singleton, 100 mins Ressources Humaines | Laurent Cantet, 100 mins
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The Independent Culture

Don't be fooled by the bus shelter posters claiming that The Cell is America's No 1 film. It was - for about 10 minutes. The first people who saw it must have rushed about the streets telling everyone to go and see something else. Good - it's not often that bad word of mouth seriously affects the success of a lousy star-vehicle.

Don't be fooled by the bus shelter posters claiming that The Cell is America's No 1 film. It was - for about 10 minutes. The first people who saw it must have rushed about the streets telling everyone to go and see something else. Good - it's not often that bad word of mouth seriously affects the success of a lousy star-vehicle.

The film stars Jennifer Lopez as a psychologist (ha!) who is working on a new kind of sci-fi-like therapy that allows her to actually enter the minds of her patients, to experience what is happening in their unconscious dreams. So, she gets to have a good root around, and soothe their demons in person (and perhaps sing a little song?). One day the FBI pitch up at the clinic and ask her to get inside the head of a serial killer who fell into a coma before he could spill where his latest victim is stashed. Jennifer is strapped to her machine and off she goes. Ooh, it's a nasty, mean, crazy place, this serial killer's mind. Jennifer wanders about gobsmacked (what was she expecting? Fenwicks?) in a louche little cheese-cloth shirt. The killer has several alter-egos, the majority of which are cross and bald and sprayed gold. They stomp down long staircases screeching with bits of velvet attached to their necks. It's just like that Dunlop tyre advert. Except it's much, much worse.

It goes on for ever. Most of the film is spent inside somebody or other's head, and the design department have gone crazy with plastic dolls and snakes and fake muscles. How happy they must have been. They make clocks tick too fast and chop horses into pulsing pieces - you name it. Inside Jennifer's head (the organ, of course, her fans are keenest to enter), it's a lovely, flowery Chinese garden (through which Puff Daddy swaggers, blowing away disrespectful swallows. Only kidding).

But we don't spend very long in there because she's too busy inside the other place trying to rescue the killer's inner child. Literally. I mean at one point she actually grabs his inner child and bolts for the exit. The whole thing is beyond belief. Even odder (and that's saying a lot) is the British actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste (of Secrets & Lies) as Lopez's assistant. She plays the part totally straight, totally frank, in an exasperated, middle-England voice, like someone having a go at the hockey team or explaining something to a renegade plumber. Poor, brisk Marianne, you think, come home, for God's sake - these Yanks are loonies.

They are too. The Cell is supposed to be controversial. It isn't. Its wild psychic dreamscape rather resembles standing in a discount book warehouse thumbing through one of those cheap fetishism albums they have, while peeking up from time to time at the old Roxy Music posters, and trying to remember if you've actually seen Un chien andalou. Then going to the butcher's before looking in on a fancy dress party. That's not controversial. I did it last weekend. "Controversial" is simply publicists' tittle meaning "we're worried".

Keeping the Faith is a slight and sweet comedy starring Edward Norton (who also directed) as Brian, a Catholic priest. Ben Stiller plays Jake, a bachelor rabbi. The pair have been best friends for ever. One day, Brian and Jake's old friend Anna visits from California. She (Jenna Elfman) is still confident and spike-legged and the two guys are thrown into a tizz by her reappearance. Naturally. Elfman has that Gwyneth Paltrow, bleached-to-glittering-submission hair.

It's easy to see why Norton picked this fizzy script - the last time he fiddled with film-making was the butch and disastrous American History X. Keeping the Faith is simply a cute homage to films like Annie Hall (the opening jazzy music, the brownstone houses, lines like "God is like Blanche Du Bois - he's always relied on the kindness of others") and Jules et Jim (the trio giggling down the street, the blondes versus the brunette). Norton is not terribly original as a director - the set-ups are all pretty prosaic - but he's certainly not clumsy with comedy or sentiment. One moment is rather touching. Milos Forman (who directed Norton in The People Vs Larry Flynt) plays Brian's boss Father Havel who talks about meeting and falling for a young woman in Prague just before the Russians arrived in 1968. I imagine this monologue was written specifically for (if not, indeed, by) Forman. He may have been in America when the tanks rolled into his home-town all those years ago, but he's been making films about exile ever since. The moment reflects well on Norton. It's always nice to witness someone with Norton's innate charisma exposing a very earnest, "studenty" humility. Norton clearly thinks Forman is the tops.

Shaft sells Samuel L Jackson (such an obvious choice) as the modern approach to the 1971 blaxploitation icon. Shaft - the cop with the walk and the chat and the boorish sex-drive - must bring a nasty race killer to justice. It's a silly, gobby, hybrid of a film. The original was a product of a genuinely desperate need to pump pride into black culture, as the civil rights movement threatened to bubble over. Plus, we had the pre-Giuliani New York streets streets to ogle (all that fantastic filth! That anything-might-happen-here feeling). This time around we've the clean lines of a clean city, with Jackson in cashmere. But the narrative isn't clean - it's desperate for an excuse for sanctimonious vigilantism. And social anger has degenerated, as it tends to, into fashion. I prefer Roundtree's threads, anyway

Ressources Humaines tells of a young French manager confronting his working-class father at the factory where they're both employed. A debut feature (Laurent Cantet - remember the name), it looks to Ken Loach and even Thomas Vinterberg ( Festen) for tone. The film's many glances at austerity and repression feel extraordinarily authentic. You will be moved.

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