Nicholas Nickleby<br></br>Rain<br></br>Biker Boyz<br></br>Wrong Turn<br></br>Otherworld<br></br>Cowboy Bebop<br></br>Fulltime Killer

Dotheboys Hall at top speed

Even as we speak, some poor soul in Hollywood is trying to work out how best to compress all 768 pages of the new Harry Potter tome into a two-hour movie. Maybe they'll be comforted by the thought that Douglas McGrath had an even tougher task with Nicholas Nickleby (PG), a novel which lasted nine hours when the National Theatre staged it in 1980. McGrath, who wrote and directed the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Jane Austen's Emma, diminishes the part played by Nickleby's relatives and stays with the title character, as he leaves his Devonshire cottage, takes a job at Wackford Squeers's Yorkshire boarding school-cum-workhouse, meets the crippled Smike (Jamie Bell) and joins Vincent Crummles' acting company, before confronting his iniquitous uncle in London. It's a logical solution, and McGrath almost trains the narrative to march to the rhythms of a film. However, there's no controlling the final stampede of eleventh-hour coincidences and disclosures. The film ends up as more of a Dickens plot summary than a work of art in its own right.

Most of the characters are little more than cameos, so it's lucky that these cameos are what make the film worth seeing: McGrath keeps many of Dickens' funniest lines and distributes them among actors who can make them even funnier. While Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson steal the show as the fabulously abominable Mr and Mrs Squeers, there are flashes of hilarious virtuosity from Nathan Lane, Tom Courtenay, Timothy Spall and Edward Fox, while Christopher Plummer is splendidly eagle-faced and disdainful as Nicholas's Uncle Ralph. The only disadvantage presented by this galaxy of glittering star turns is that it outshines Charlie Hunnam and Anne Hathaway as Nickleby and his drippy beloved. Despite being a Novocastrian alumnus of Byker Grove and Queer as Folk, Hunnam looks and sounds like a surfer from Malibu trying to put on an English accent.

A rather less boisterous coming-of-age film, Rain (15) is set by the seaside in New Zealand, where the 13-year-old Janey and her family are staying for the summer, and where the air is muggy with liquor and suspicion. It's easy to guess which route the story is taking, but the atmosphere of bleary, sticky torpor is expertly evoked, and there are superb, naturalistic performances from Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki as Janey, and Aaron Murphy as her younger brother.

A week after 2 Fast 2 Furious comes Biker Boyz (12A), which might as well be called 2 Fast 2 Furious 2 Wheels: both films are driven by street-racing, and both are decorated by hip-hop on the soundtrack and hotpants on the women. Biker Boyz, which stars Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke, doesn't have the undercover cop angle used by The Fast and the Furious and its sequel, but the only other difference is the choice of vehicle. And to be fair, motorcycles do lend themselves to more hair-raising stunts than cars do. The script is so bad,it's a mercy so much is drowned out by roaring engines.

Wrong Turn (18) is no more and no less than a film about tight-vested college kids being chased around a forest in West Virginia by grunting, inbred, cannibal hillbillies from hell. A B-movie through and through, it has no originality, not much plausibility, and less depth than its many puddles of blood. But it knows how to deliver back-to-basics frights. I watched most of it from behind my fingers.

Fear Dot Com (18) is too pretentious for such good, honest scares. At heart, it's an execrable piece of trash about a haunted website which kills anyone who logs on. It treats women as objects to be ogled and maimed, not necessarily in that order, and the laughable plotting requires the villain to leave a magazine in his apartment that features his own secret hide-out on the cover. But what's really disagreeable is how it dresses itself up as an arty, psychological drama. One of its methods is to copy the moody lighting of Se7en, so entire police stations are lit by a couple of 40-watt bulbs.

Otherworld (12A) is a cartoon anthology of ancient Welsh legends, bookended by irrelevant live-action sequences set in the present day. As worthy and educational as it might be, I don't know who would enjoy it. Adults won't be impressed by the unsophisticated script and animation, but if it's aimed at children, why does it include a sex scene, a puppy dog stabbing, and a toddler being thrown on a bonfire?

Cowboy Bebop (12A), another cartoon, is a Japanese science fiction anime about a gang of bounty hunters on Mars. The kinetic, futuristic combat scenes should entice fans of Blade Runner and 2000AD, but its chief audience would have to be fans of the Cowboy Bebop TV series, because the film never stops to explain who the characters are, what they're doing, or why we should care. Fulltime Killer (18) is a juvenile Hong Kong thriller about a pair of duelling assassins. One of them gets his ideas from films he's seen, and the movie, too, is content to lift its style from other people's work.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

Comments