Son of the Bride<br></br>Full Frontal<br></br>The Missouri Breaks<br></br>The Hot Chick

The toilet: the only place to be
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The Independent Culture

Argentina's Son of the Bride (15) is a mid-life crisis movie rather than a romantic comedy, but it's much more comic than any Sandra Bullock vehicle and it's much, much more romantic. It stars Ricardo Darin (the confidence trickster from Nine Queens) as a 42-year-old restaurateur with too much on his plate.

His cellphone brings him nothing but bad news from debtors and creditors, and he has no time for his young daughter, or for a girlfriend who isn't much older. The title of the film - the worst thing about it - derives from just one of Darin's headaches: his elderly dad wants to renew his marriage vows in church, even though his wife has Alzheimer's.

Juan Jose Campanella, the writer-director, has as much on his mind as Darin does. In between the farcical set pieces and verbal jokes, his film mulls over notions of freedom vs responsibility, both to your family and to your country. It also glows with emotion, although it's at its most tear-jerking in unlikely places. When Darin phones his dad to say that he'll help with the wedding, his dad is using the toilet. He taps the wash basin with his hand in delight, and nothing, you feel, could be more expressive.

Full Frontal (18) isn't so much a Steven Soderbergh film as a Steven Soderbergh holiday. After he directed Ocean's Eleven, he wanted a break from blockbusters, so he shot his next project in just 18 days, used the grottiest DV cameras, and instructed the actors, including Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener and David Duchovny, to improvise, to do their own hair and make-up, and generally to put up with the conditions of a low-budget indie movie. Liberating as it might have been for Soderbergh to work that way, I can't see how it benefited the film. Is Full Frontal any better than it would have been if the cast hadn't had to bring their own packed lunches? Why get Julia Roberts to do her own hair if she's going to wear a joke shop Suzi Quatro wig? Weren't the millionaire superstars just slumming it to parade their commitment to their art?

The film meanders through a day in the life of various LA folk, all of whom are having some kind of personal crisis. It does have amusing scenes, but over all it's trivial and smug, and it relies on in-jokes to distract us from how vapid the characters are. As a tapestry of Hollywood lives, it's outshone by Robert Altman. As an improv experiment, it just duplicates what Mike Figgis has done in Time Code and Hotel. And at the postmodern games it plays with its film-within-a-film, it's beaten by Adaptation. Let's hope Soderbergh finished the movie feeling rested and refreshed.

For many years after its release in 1976, The Missouri Breaks (15) was condemned as a turkey - an out-of-control, bloated monster. All I can say is, they don't make out-of-control, bloated monsters like they used to. It's true that Marlon Brando saw Arthur Penn's Western as a chance to try on every accent in his repertoire and every costume in the fancy dress shop, but Jack Nicholson gives his all as one of the horse rustlers being hounded by Brando's bounty hunter, and Thomas McGuane's dialogue overflows with colour and humour. At one point, Nicholson's lover wants to know if he's an outlaw, and asks him why he owns so many guns. "I'm a sportsman," he replies. "Why do you have a sawn-off shotgun," she asks. "I'm a sawn-off sportsman," grins Jack.

The Hot Chick (12A) is a comedy starring Rob Schneider as a high school prom queen who's swapped bodies with a 30-year-old man. There's more to it than you might think, although I admit that's not saying very much.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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