Lucky Number Slevin (18)<br/> Seven Swords (15)<br/> Date Movie (12A)<br/> The Fog (15)<br/>

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The Independent Culture

Josh Hartnett is visiting his friend Nick in New York, but when he gets to Nick's apartment, the door's open and no one's home. Soon, two large men drop by, punch him in the stomach, and drag him off to see a reclusive mob godfather known as the Boss (Morgan Freeman). Nick, it seems, owes the Boss $96,000, and in Nick's absence it's up to Hartnett to make restitution by murdering the son of a rival godfather, the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley, as he's grandly styled in the credits).

Deposited back at Nick's apartment, Hartnett has barely caught his breath before two more large men drop by, punch him in the stomach, and drag him off to see the Rabbi. It seems that Nick owes him money as well.

Hartnett, then, is not just in trouble; he's in a carbon copy of a film by Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino. In other words, it's a graphically violent, emphatically artificial crime caper in which everyone has a nickname or a colourfully offbeat personality trait, and everyone is as garrulous on the subject of pop-culture trivia as - ooh, I don't know - a screenwriter without much experience of real life. When all five of your main characters expound on their favourite films and cartoons, you shouldget out more. Also Xeroxed from Ritchie and Tarantino is Lucky Number Slevin's plot, a maze of flashbacks and double-crosses which might wow us with its ingenuity if it weren't, ultimately, a bit daft. Ideally, a labyrinthine plot should give the impression that there was no way it could have been any simpler, whereas in this instance the protagonists seem to be making things tricky for themselves just for the hell of it.

The film is saved by some snappy patter and by the lively performances which Paul McGuigan, the Scottish director of Gangster No 1, elicits from his cast. Bruce Willis co-stars as a hitman, and Lucy Liu sheds her businesslike image to play Nick's bubbly neighbour. Even the reliably wooden Hartnett comes alive, although it's possible I'm getting carried away by the pleasure of seeing him punched in the stomach so many times. Lucky Number Slevin is recommended strictly to those viewers - probably young, probably male - who are in the mood for some pulp fiction, but it's a better Guy Ritchie film than the last two Guy Ritchie made.

* Few red-blooded film-goers would deny the appeal of watching some superhuman kung-fu artists take on hordes of face-painted imperial soldiers in 17th-century China. But Seven Swords is so incoherent that it could be a 10-part TV series which has been hacked down to feature length. There's also a fatal mismatch between its dour tone and its 1980s-pop-video naffness. A film needs to have a sense of humour if its characters are dressed up as Xena Warrior Princess.

* Date Movie is a parody of the romantic comedy genre, but only in the sense that Scary Movie is a parody of the horror genre, ie, not really.

Instead of doing anything as radical as lampooning the clichés and the materialistic mindset of the standard rom-com, all Date Movie does is string together marginally ruder versions of scenes from other films, as if hearing familiar lines parroted by other actors were funny in itself. And even in this feeble endeavour, it makes two drastic blunders. Firstly, it pastiches films which aren't date movies, such as King Kong and Kill Bill; and, secondly, it pastiches films which are immeasurably funnier than itself. Lifting scenes from Meet The Parents, and then slotting in some fart gags, does nothing except underline how much better those scenes were in the original film, without the fart gags. Aaron Seltzer, one of the writers of Scary Movie, also neglects the cardinal rule of post- Airplane spoofs, which is that the jokes have to come thick and fast. After every punchline in Date Movie, there's a five-second pause, as if they're waiting for the audience laughter to die down. They needn't have bothered.

* A bigger-budget remake of John Carpenter's 1980 chiller, The Fog belongs to the new breed of no-swearing, no-nudity, no-blood, horror-lite films which children can watch with their parents. It won't give anyone nightmares, because by bedtime they'll have forgotten every bland, juvenile minute of it. As in Carpenter's film, an island community is menaced by ghosts with a grudge, but they're annoyingly inconsistent ghosts who keep losing and acquiring their powers. As the mood takes them, they can throw knives about, reanimate corpses, dissolve people, set them on fire, give them leprosy, muck up their internet connections, and even burn a nifty logo into a piece of paper.

Unless, that is, they're in the vicinity of one of the heroes, in which case they can't do anything. Eventually, the spooks settle on a traditional transparent-yet-decomposing look, but they're still more life-like than the shiny-toothed TV actors they're haunting.

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