Both Colin Farrell and Neil Jordan get back to their roots with Ondine, a modest Irish fable, barely more than a Sunday evening TV drama, which isn't too far from something Bill Forsyth could have made in the Eighties.
Farrell turns in an impressively unstarry performance as a rough-hewn fisherman who spends his days alone on the sea, and his nights alone in a picturesque coastal town, down the road from his ex-wife and daughter. The film opens as he hauls up one of his nets, only to find an Uma Thurman lookalike (Alicja Bachleda) in among the haddock. She claims not to remember who she is, so Farrell lets her stay in the empty cottage where his mother used to live. When his daughter hears about the catch of the day, she convinces herself that Bachleda is a magical half-woman, half-seal selkie. Farrell isn't sure what to think, but he's in no hurry to throw her back into the water.
If you're in a forgiving mood, Ondine is an affable, vaguely supernatural romance that ambles through quaint surroundings, its folksy innocence disrupted only by an insistence on getting Bachleda into lingerie whenever possible. The film takes a wrong turn in the last half hour, however, when the real world intrudes on this dreamy idyll. There are lots of questions that don't need answering as long as you're being pulled along by the tide of a fairy tale, but when you're yanked back into reality by gangsters, car crashes and kidney transplants, it's obvious that the plot has more holes than one of Farrell's fishing nets.
If you were parodying the way a French film can be mangled when it's remade across the Atlantic, you could start your research with Chloe, a Toronto-based retread of 2003's Nathalie ... (yes, those three dots are part of the title). In both films, a wife suspects her charismatic, middle-aged husband of being unfaithful, and so pays a prostitute to flirt with him and report back on his response.
In the new version, Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Béart (as Nathalie) have been replaced by Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried (as Chloe) – so that's the first big change: they've knocked 15 years off the prostitute's age, and asked us to believe that the expensively styled, saucer-eyed ingenue from Mamma Mia! is an experienced seductress. Similarly, the production design is self-consciously snazzy, even when it makes little sense. I'm no expert, but how likely is it that a gynaecologist's consulting room would have a clear glass door? And then Chloe bolts on some daft twists all of its own, and a stealthy psychological drama mutates into the kind of lurid "erotic thriller" which would have gone straight to video shortly after the release of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Even here it falls short. The film is directed by Atom Egoyan, an art-house darling who strains to keep things tasteful, even when the material demands the opposite approach. He's fighting a losing battle.
In essence, Chloe is a trashy B-movie that can't quite accept that it's a trashy B-movie, a charge that could also be levelled at Legion. This is a film which has God deciding to wipe out humanity by turning half the population into flesh-eating zombies, and instructing those zombies to kill off the other half. Mysterious ways, indeed. Our only hope is a pregnant waitress who works in a remote desert diner. Her unborn child may become the new Messiah, so the Angel Michael (Paul Bettany) defies the Almighty by popping down from Heaven and defending her with a machine-gun the size of a canoe under each arm.
You might have gathered by now that Legion is even less logical than, well, the Bible, but whenever it embraces its own ludicrousness, it's a fizzing cocktail of The Terminator, Dawn of the Dead and The Exorcist. The problem is that the writer-director wants us to take the film semi-seriously, so he gives every single person in the diner their own well-worn anecdote to recite while the zombies obligingly wait outside. No film with a cannibal granny who can scuttle across ceilings should ever be as boring as this.
Also Showing: 07/03/2010
Case 39 (110 mins, 15)
Renée Zellweger stars as a social worker investigating the home life of a troubled girl. A debacle to begin with, Case 39 eventually becomes a horror rollercoaster based on the same blueprint as Drag Me To Hell.
1234 (79 mins)
A British indie comedy about a British indie band. It's a sincere and affectionate depiction of life on the bottom rung of the music ladder – the sticky-floored clubs, the draughty rehearsal rooms, the numbing day jobs – but it's frustratingly hazy on the band members themselves. We never know their ambitions, their histories, or even what sort of songs they play.
The Shouting Men (91 mins)
Soft-hearted if hopeless British road movie featuring a vanload of Gillingham FC fans on their way to an FA Cup match against Newcastle. It should have been called The Puking, Peeing and Farting Men.
Motherhood (85 mins, 15)
Feeble comedy about how nightmarishly stressful it is to be a mum (Uma Thurman) in New York – even, it seems, if your toddler remains asleep while you go shopping, write your blog, and dance around the apartment.