Love Me If You Dare (15)<br/>A Cinderella Story (PG)<br/>Father and Son (PG)<br/>Merci Docteur Rey (15)<br/>La Haine (15)

Appalling, dreadful, impenetrable and rubbish. Stick to the re-release
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The Independent Culture

Love Me If You Dare (15) introduces us to two inseparable, eight-year-old friends, Julien and Sophie, whose relationship is a non-stop game of dares.

Love Me If You Dare (15) introduces us to two inseparable, eight-year-old friends, Julien and Sophie, whose relationship is a non-stop game of dares.

As we follow them through adulthood (when they're played by Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard), the challenges they set each other become ever more dangerous and destructive, but Yann Samuell, the writer-director, spoils any sense of growing madness by making Julien and Sophie a pair of borderline sociopaths right from the start: the first dare she sets him is to release the handbrake on the school bus. Shooting in stylised Amelie-vision, Samuell gives us no clue as to why they would behave so maliciously, or how they've got away with their dares for so long, so a film that wants to be about a profound, transgressive love affair ends up being about nothing except a couple of maniacs.

Still, Love Me If You Dare is a work of genius compared to this week's other new releases. A Cinderella Story (PG) tries to pour the fairytale's essence into the mould of a contemporary Californian high school, but spills most of it all over the floor. The crux of the fairytale, after all, is that Cinders (Hilary Duff) and her prince (Chad Michael Murray) are from different worlds, whereas in the movie they're both middle-class, straight-A students who have to work at the family business after school, so it should hardly take a fairy godmother to get them dating. Making Disney's Cinderella cartoon seem like a beacon of searing social realism, this syrupy confection never recovers after the aptly named Duff goes to a school disco wearing a wisp of a mask around her eyes, and no one recognises her. And I thought Benjamin Bratt was stupid last week because he couldn't see through Halle Berry's Catwoman disguise.

Alexander Sokurov's Father and Son (PG) is so abstract that it's impossible to summarise. The father and son of the title are played by two young men who have been chosen less for their acting ability than for how good they look with their shirts off. They live in a nameless town during an indistinct time period. Sometimes the men gaze at each other, sometimes they grapple naked, sometimes they just talk. Every now and then they talk to other people, too, although their conversations usually tail off when someone mumbles, "I had so many dreams last night, all of them strange." According to the press notes, the film is a "parable [that] has neither a beginning nor an end," so don't say you haven't been warned.

And it gets worse. Merci Docteur Rey (15) is a film you stumble away from as if you've just been in a motorway pile-up caused by a hippo waddling onto the road: you know you've experienced something hideous, but you can't quite believe it happened. The film is a Parisian farce produced by Ismail Merchant. To be merciful, I won't mention the name of the writer-director, but judging from the stilted dialogue, idiotic plotting, sloppy editing, depraved morality and everything else that's wrong with this stinker, his only talent is to get his famous friends - Diane Wiest, Jane Birkin and Simon Callow among them - to act as hammily as they can.

It might be best to take refuge in Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine (15), the French answer to Do The Right Thing, which is re-released this week.

Wandering through a day and a night in a housing estate on the edge of Paris, the film is a stark portrayal of rioting, racism, institutional violence and urban decay, but it has glimmers of warm humour, and the black-and-white cinematography is spellbinding. Merci Monsieur Kassovitz.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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