Our Vinnie joins the stars on a whining road to nowhere

Gone in 60 Seconds (15) <i>Dominic Sena, 118 mins</i> | The Road to El Dorado (U) <i>Bibo Bergeron/Will Finn, 90 mins</i> The Colour of Paradise (PG) <i>Majid Majidi, 90 mins</i>
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The Independent Culture

In Gone in 60 Seconds, Nicolas Cage plays Memphis, once an infamous car thief, now just a sweet guy in overalls. His younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi, such a great young actor: small, innocent, retreating into himself as the camera beats on his white skin) is in trouble with brutal gangster Raymond (played by Christopher Eccleston, Manc accent and all). Kip owes 50 cars to Raymond, and Memphis must help him to steal them. They have four days.

In Gone in 60 Seconds, Nicolas Cage plays Memphis, once an infamous car thief, now just a sweet guy in overalls. His younger brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi, such a great young actor: small, innocent, retreating into himself as the camera beats on his white skin) is in trouble with brutal gangster Raymond (played by Christopher Eccleston, Manc accent and all). Kip owes 50 cars to Raymond, and Memphis must help him to steal them. They have four days.

Memphis tries to get his old crew together. Some are dead, some awol, but a handful, played by Vinnie Jones, Robert Duvall and Angelina Jolie, are willing. (Why do directors insist on making Jolie look so freakish? They're always putting her in strange, dry wigs - the only film which has done justice to her unbelievable face was Hackers, and that was some years ago.) So, they stake out the cars they need to steal, and Cage gets to be Cage: the master of lyrical stupidity. It's a stupidity that passes so beautifully for sincerity, transmitted by a voice that hits the same three muffled-sax notes. (Aaah, the way he calls you "sweetie", like you just might be at any minute...)

The film is hopeless. It's dozy - less a Lamborghini, more an impassable combine harvester on a country road. The manic hip-hop soundtrack tries to disguise the plodding semi-fun being had by the director and his cast, but it only makes things worse - the music defies plausible delivery, and so the actors, with all their drowned lines, seem incongruously genteel and powerless.

In between the odd scrap and whine, Cage and his gang go into raptures over cars. How they love cars! Big grey ones with growly engines, red ones with spongy gear sticks, silver ones, blue ones, cars with lots of lights. A large percentage of the vehicles stolen are vintage. The new Mercs and Ferraris are snatched en masse from showrooms, but the old cars are stalked and adored. A 1967 Shelby Mustang gets more screen-time than Jolie because, after all, it is the love interest.

But then nobody could claim to really love a modern car. You can't love something that's had its edges planed. And all modern cars, from the new Jag to the new black cab, look like maternally protective pods - rounded and apologetic, as though their very kinetic nature has been humbled. Admiring cars at all is just so naff. The great age of the car is long gone.

The days when the car could be the star were the days before it was recognised as a deadly pollutant, a bringer of traffic jams, packed with alarms and air-bags and child-seats and on-board navigation systems. Never again will anyone, so freely, be able to make a film like The Driver (1978) in which Ryan O'Neal (freckled and grim) took cars apart by slicing bits of them off against walls. Now that was a character who loved cars.

I suppose I'd better mention Our Vinnie - the mediocre athlete and canny PR operator who has hacked his way into that awful, oozy place, "The nation's affections". He's even been awarded the secular equivalent of an MBE - a One-2-One ad (in which our diamond geezer is a sweetie).

Simultaneously big and rat-like, he resembles the South American capybara (a pampas-grazer and the world's largest rodent, in case you were wondering). But not to the people who write "Our Vinnie takes on Hollywood!" stories (photo of OV growling on Sunset Boulevard, with a cigar). They're like the people who invite "Mad" Frankie Fraser and similar clapped-out trogs - favourites of the East End club circuit, delighting Barbara Windsor with Homeric tales of Hogarthian deeds - to come and add "authenticity" to their restaurant launch. To them, Vinnie's a hero. To me, he's just a school bully whose court is a clutch of tittering sycophants the size of the country. His performance is OK.

DreamWorks's new animation The Road to El Dorado is pretty good, thanks to a lovely vocal double-act by Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline. They voice two sparky Spanish cads who wind up in the South American jungle in about 1519, seeking gold and finding the lost city. Some of the sequences are spectacular, particularly a sea journey that outscares The Perfect Storm, with a scene stolen from Jaws (those seconds before Chief Brodie gasps "You're gonna need a bigger boat"). The downside is Elton John belting out songs penned by Tim Rice. Chewy, weird, loud. Enough said.

Iranian director Majid Majidi's The Colour of Paradise (after Children of Heaven, his second UK release in a month) is one of the saddest films I've seen, and tells of a blind boy Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani, eat your heart out, Haley Joel Osment) trying to win his father's love. It opens with Mohammad at his boarding school for visually impaired children, and in these first frames we learn the importance of sound in the film: the dense thud of the Braille machine is mirrored in the trill of the crickets and the pop-pop of the woodpecker. Mohammad even tries to translate the sounds of nature into language, into a kind of Morse code available to him alone. Majidi takes us to the countryside, where the view is sometimes a Monet, sometimes a Van Gogh. A sloping poppy field (rather strangely) hints at that moment in A Room with a View when Julian Sands grabs an embrace from the Tuscany-dazed Helena Bonham Carter. But it's the film's simplicity of expression, its frankness that appeals the most. I'm thinking of one scene in particular: Mohammad returns a downed fledgling to its nest. No music, no manipulatively wistful imagery - just hands in old leaves and on bark, and the silent energy required for the deed. The impulse to kiss the screen was almost irresistible.

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