Suzie Gold<br></br>Uptown Girls<br></br>Torque<br></br>Orphée

The girls kvetch, the boys brawl. Thank God for Cocteau!
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The Independent Culture

Every year or so, there's a film in which a woman from an ethnic minority falls in love with a man from the ethnic majority. She feels stifled by her family's traditions, but she comes to appreciate their colourful richness and warmth, even as she stands by her man. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the most lucrative example of the genre; Bollywood Queen is the most recent British version. Now comes Suzie Gold (15), which relocates the culture-clash rom-com formula to the north London Jewish community.

That's its one and only idea. So paper-thin it makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding seem like Schindler's List, Suzie Gold assumes that as long as it refers to fish balls and synagogues every now and then it won't have to bother with such details as characters and plot. The dialogue sounds like a rough draft, and there's so little spark between the star-crossed lovers that Suzie might be better off with the oily young businessman (Iddo Goldberg) her parents want her to marry. At least he, unlike her Gentile boyfriend, has two personality traits to rub together.

Suzie herself is played by Summer Phoenix, an American actress (Joaquin's little sister) who uses the almost-perfect-but-slightly-too-posh London accent patented by Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger. In her insipid, chick-lit voice-over, she keeps complaining about the terrible pressure she's under. But the person on screen is an attractive 23-year-old who still lives in her parents' luxurious house, who goes on extravagant shopping sprees with her close-knit friends, who has a good job as a daytime TV researcher (albeit a job that's oddly similar to Bridget Jones's), and who wouldn't be disowned by her family if she married out, anyway. Instead of sympathising with her, you wonder what she's kvetching about.

Uptown Girls (12A) unites two of the most detestable female characters in cinema history. Brittany Murphy plays the orphaned daughter of a rock star who has her trust fund embezzled, and has to get a job nannying a music mogul's eight-year-old daughter, Dakota Fanning. Murphy is a ditzy, giggling party animal - like all of her roles, in other words, except that she now has a pet piglet on a leash, for some unwarranted extra kookiness. Fanning, meanwhile, is a chilly, sour-faced mysophobe who's old before her time, so the idea is that the Girls will drive each other up the wall, but eventually Murphy will teach Fanning to embrace her childhood, and Fanning will teach Murphy to grow up. In the event, they've become friends within 15 minutes, which makes them even less convincing than they were beforehand.

Almost everything about this bilge made me want to chop off my own head and throw it at the screen, and I'd reserve special loathing for Murphy's love interest, who was supposed to be a gifted and soulful British singer-songwriter, even though his English accent, songs and singing voice were so dire that I couldn't work out whether he was meant to be a joke or not (apparently not). But what pushed me to the brink of madness was the way Uptown Girls counterpoised its grating comedy with nauseating, mawkish pathos. It's like force-feeding someone icing sugar and then seasoning it with treacle.

Torque (15) is basically The Fast and the Furious on motorbikes: the rapid editing squeezes in as many different angles of bikes, bimbos and brawls as possible, and the heavy metal soundtrack competes with the thundering of engines to damage your eardrums. What the film has going for it is that it knows how silly it is. In places it explicitly parodies The Fast and the Furious (although the films share a producer), and elsewhere it just parodies itself, following every ludicrously over-the-top moment with a comment on how ludicrously over-the-top it was. It's nearly, but not quite funny. The irreverence makes it less painful than 2 Fast 2 Furious and Biker Boyz, but it falls between two stools. Never quite changing lanes into out-and-out comedy, it motors down the middle of the road as an action movie that's ashamed of its own daftness.

On a rather different note, the NFT is re-releasing Orphée (PG), Jean Cocteau's surreal re-imagining of the Orpheus myth. Famed for its seamless special effects and enigmatic symbolism, Orphée is set in 1950, the Thracian musician is now a bequiffed literary star, and Death wears an evening dress and rides around in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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