Seven Pounds, Gabriele Muccino, 125 mins, 12A<br>A Christmas Tale, Arnaud Desplechin, 150 mins, 15

Coming soon (we hope) &ndash; a goofy Will Smith comedy
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The Independent Culture

Watching Will Smith with his goofy charm switched off is like watching Fred Astaire on crutches, but that's what we get in Seven Pounds. I've rarely seen a film so sure of its own seriousness and profundity. Even though it's as simplistic as any daytime TV weepie, it adopts the mixed-up chronology, shaky camerawork, dour lighting and numbingly slow pace of an intense indie drama. Presumably someone saw 21 Grams and decided that that was the way to make a film with weights and measures in the title.

Smith plays a morose tax inspector who's trying to overcome a personal tragedy by helping strangers. He chooses his beneficiaries by hanging around hospitals, spying on the sick and the needy – a process far creepier and more arbitrary than if he just gave all his money to charity. No one says as much in the film, though. Smith, also Seven Pounds's producer, is seen as an enigmatic saint, rather than a moping busybody in need of a good slapping.

One of the unfortunates is Rosario Dawson. More suited to a romantic comedy than an angsty drama, she's a warm-hearted beauty who prints wedding stationery for a living and owns a dog the size of a stegosaurus, and yet we're supposed to believe that she's so short of friends that she's keen to spend time with a self-regarding sad sack like Smith. She also has a critical heart condition, although she's more likely to die of old age before Seven Pounds gets around to revealing his masterplan to help her. I won't reveal it, but suffice to say it's impractical, illegal and immoral, and so utterly silly that it would have worked better in a high-concept Jim Carrey comedy. Or, for that matter, a high-concept Will Smith comedy, which is what I hope he makes next.

A Christmas Tale is more or less The Family Stone remade as a French art-house movie. Released a month late, it has a dysfunctional family getting together in a mansion for a few festive days of eating, drinking and feuding. There's even a terminal illness for the matriarch, just as there was in The Family Stone. Catherine Deneuve has leukaemia, so she might need a bone marrow transplant from her prodigal son, Mathieu Amalric, or from her daughter, Anne Consigny, who hasn't spoken to her brother in six years.

This being the French version of the scenario, it's a bracingly eccentric, waspishly intelligent blast of flashbacks, freeze frames, split screens, and bizarre music choices. The main change, though, is that the characters don't say why they love each other – they have academic debates about why they don't.

Also showing: 18/01/2009

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