Sex Lives of the Potato Men<br></br>Man Dancin'<br></br>Pieces of April<br></br>Son Frère<br></br>Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star<br></br>Vizontele - Tuuba

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The Independent Culture

In Hollywood, sex is a discreetly edited montage of aerobicised flesh and satin sheets, whereas in Sex Lives of the Potato Men (18) it involves a reluctant quick one with the mother-in-law, and a brothel where there's money off if you bring your own strawberry jam. It's a film about coitus at its most squalid and undignified, which might be why it stars the fattest man and the thinnest man in British comedy: Johnny Vegas, who plays against type as an overweight, boozy slob, and Mackenzie Crook, who has hit upon an even worse haircut than the one he had in The Office.

Along with Mark Gatiss and Dominic Coleman, they drive around in a battered van, delivering sacks of spuds to Birmingham's chip shops, usually getting a knee trembler in the stockroom as a tip. Sometimes the bathos is funny, as when Vegas - mercifully keeping his vest on - spices up a group-sex session with some polite chat about how hard it was to find a parking space. But that one sex-is-comedy idea isn't enough to hang an entire film on, especially as writer-director Andy Humphries strings together his vignettes haphazardly, without weaving them into a plot. He doesn't show many signs of being a cinematic visionary, either. The only images that linger are the close-ups of snot and dog turds, and I wish they wouldn't.

In Man Dancin' (15), Alex Ferns (scary Trevor from EastEnders) is a Glasgow gangster who is determined to go straight after a nine-year prison stretch.

Alas, the rules of this particular sub-genre decree that he's not only doomed to failure, he's doomed in general. When his probation officer persuades him to take the role of Jesus in a church passion play, he's upsetting his old boss by redeeming prostitutes and railing against corruption before you can say "thudding Christian allegory".

The film was written by Sergio Casci, who set out his stall as the new Bill Forsyth with last year's American Cousins. His second screenplay, directed by Norman Stone, confirms his gift for character and dialogue, but the story doesn't gel. The hero's sudden transformation from stoic ex-con to tower-block Messiah makes as little sense to the viewer as it does to the people in the film.

If The Barbarian Invasions doesn't sate your appetite for terminal illness, two other films serve up the same subject.

Pieces of April (12A) features Patricia Clarkson, who is driving to New York with her husband, son, daughter and mother to have what could be her last ever Thanksgiving dinner before she succumbs to cancer. The turkey is being cooked by the black sheep of the family, April (Katie Holmes), a punky drop-out who now lives in a cramped flat in the city's worst neighbourhood.

The film divides its time between the relatives on the road, who fear that the meal might be a disaster, and April's preparations, which show that their fears are well-founded. Her oven isn't working, so she rushes around the multicultural building, hoping to cook in one of her neighbours' apartments.

Pieces of April is a small-scale film in every respect. It was shot on a nickel-and-dime budget on digital video, it keeps both the humour and the drama at an understated level, and it ends abruptly after just an hour and a quarter. But it has more crackling wit than most bigger comedies. Scripted and directed by Peter Hedges, writer of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, it's a frank, moving sketch of the frustrations of any family event that no one wants to go to, but everyone knows they must.

Son Frère (15) was made by Patrice Chéreau, the director of Intimacy, and he could have used the same title again: his unsparing, jagged new film is a study of the pseudo-erotic intimacy that acute illness can bring about. For much of the film, a young man is lying in hospital, debilitated by a blood disease. Nurses shave his body, doctors cut it open, and the dying man and his brother rediscover a closeness they haven't known for 20 years.

Draining as Son Frère is, it has more laughs than Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (12A), which is one of those third-rate comedies that Adam Sandler produces in order to keep his old Saturday Night Live buddies in work. In this one, David Spade plays, yes, a former child star, now a thirtysomething, who thinks he can sample the ordinary childhood he never had by paying a family to let him live with them for a month. It's a fertile premise, but it's interred beneath a tonne of glutinous sentimentality and random scenes of Spade showing off.

Vizontele - Tuuba (12A) is a quaint Turkish comedy about a government official who is appointed as the librarian in a remote village with no library.