When old TV shows transfer from the small screen to the big one, their budget and their scale tend to be magnified accordingly: Charlie's Angels and S.W.A.T., for instance, became flashy, pyrotechnic blockbusters. Starsky & Hutch (15), on the other hand, stays resolutely television-sized. It's been filmed as a comedy starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, but it doesn't go for the outrageous period spoofery of Austin Powers, or for the unhinged satire of Stiller and Wilson's last team-up, Zoolander. It's content to be a breezy cop-buddy comedy that recreates the look of the Seventies TV series faithfully without making any points about the Seventies, or about TV, or about anything else. Take away a few of the set pieces and it would be no funnier than any of the original episodes were - and no louder, faster, more exciting or more consequential, either. It's a movie with no ambitions except to be OK, and that's just what it is.
Mike Newell's latest film, Mona Lisa Smile (12A), sticks obediently to the syllabus laid down by Dead Poets Society. It's set in New England in 1953, in an elite, historic, women's college that has a reputation for academic excellence, even though it devotes much of the timetable to lessons on preparing the right meal when your future husband's boss is coming over for dinner. Then a new art history teacher, Julia Roberts, arrives from California with a suitcase full of subversive ideas and attitudes. Soon she's upsetting the cobwebby old duffers who run the place, and inspiring her students (rising starlets Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Julia Stiles), who have a spectrum of insecurities to overcome.
It's less Dead Poets Society than a dead loss. We keep hearing what a "fabulous" and "extraordinary" person Roberts is, but the sum total of her extraordinary deeds is to encourage one student to apply to law school and to give the rest a very brief, very elementary introduction to modern art.
("Look beyond the paint," she instructs ... watch out, Matthew Collings.) She faces hardly any opposition, either, which is unfortunate for the undramatic, unfocused film, but fortunate for her: she's so highly strung that she nearly storms out of her job when someone writes a snide article about her in the college magazine. Far from being fabulous, she's the least impressive teacher since Clare Short was on BBC2's My Week In The Real World.
Northfolk (PG) is set in 1955, when a town in Montana is about to be flooded by a new dam, and the dam company's agents have to get the last remaining inhabitants to leave their homes. It's an excellent premise that comes with a bushel of apocalyptic, Biblical weirdness - an emptied graveyard, the building of an ark - so it's annoying that the film-makers, Mark and Michael Polish, have heaped so much more unrelated surrealism on top of it. With its crackpot angels, prolonged silences, and any-colour-as-long-as-it's-grey palette, the film becomes an exercise in the kind of deadpan Lynchian oddity that's now most often seen in high-concept lager commercials.
One Last Chance (15) stars Dougray Scott and Kevin McKidd and follows the misadventures of three young men who discover a nugget of gold. It could be their ticket out of their dreich Highland village - if they're not foiled by gangsters, conmen or their own stupidity. Stewart Svaasand, the writer-director, has a far more sparkling turn of phrase than that generic title would suggest, but for all the film's scruffy charms, it's let down by the lackadaisical plotting. At times Svaasand forgets that the film has a plot at all.
Carnages (15) features, among other characters, a wounded bullfighter, a suicidal philosopher, mother-and-son taxidermists, an actress undergoing primal scream therapy, and a girl whose dog is twice her size. It's the first feature film from Delphine Gleize, and although it's too drawn out and too precious, Gleize can already intertwine her sinister, melancholy, but comic tales with an artistry that should give Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson pause.
Spare Parts (15) tells of two men from a grey, industrial, Slovenian town who smuggle illegal emigrants across Croatia to Italy. It's honest, unsensationalist, and wholly depressing in its view that human traffickers lead lives just as dreary as the desperate refugees in the backs of their vans. Honey (PG) is the safe, shiny story of a girl (Jessica Alba) from the Bronx who wants to make it as a hip-hop video choreographer and to help her local community, too. As sweet as its title, the film is jam-packed with positive messages for pre-teen MTV junkies. Leo (15) is gracefully filmed and performed, but its dual narrative of a brooding parolee (Joseph Fiennes) and a boy who's resented by his alcoholic mother (Elizabeth Shue) is just too slight to sustain our interest. Not noticeably concise in its 1987 edition, the new Director's Cut of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (15) is an hour longer.Reuse content