The Blind Side, John Lee Hancock, 128 mins, (12A)
Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang, Susanna White, 117 mins, (U)
Nightwatching, Peter Greenaway, 134 mins, (18)

A feelgood story that fails, even with sassy Sandra strutting her stuff

According to the Oscars, The Blind Side was one of 2009's 10 best films, and it featured the best performance by any actress last year.

Take into account the $263m (£175m) it made at the US box office, and you'd think it would be a must-see. It isn't. To British eyes, The Blind Side is a saccharine, sentimental TV movie, interesting only in that it confirms the depth of conservatism in America. Sarah Palin may not have won the vice presidency, but – in spirit – she won the Oscar.

Sandra Bullock stars as Palin – sorry, Leigh Anne Tuohy – a pistol-packing Christian interior decorator who lives in Memphis with a fast-food tycoon and their two cute-as-a-button children. One evening when the family is driving home from a school pageant, she spots Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) trudging through the darkness. He's a hulking, uneducated, black 17-year-old with no home to go to, so Tuohy takes pity on him and lets him sleep on the couch. It's a laudable deed, without a doubt, although given the size of her plantation-style mansion, she could have let him have the whole East Wing without bumping into him for a week. Anyway, Oher moves in with the Tuohys indefinitely, and with their support he passes his exams and becomes the school's star American footballer.

The film is based on a true story, so maybe its bland lack of drama is authentic, but it's difficult to believe that neither Tuohy, nor her children, nor Oher himself ever had any misgivings about the situation. Nor does the film question a system wherein higher education is reserved for those with lots of money and/or outstanding athleticism. A feelgood film that makes you feel ill, The Blind Side espouses the view that poverty in America needn't be a problem as long as rich white Christians adopt gifted black children. All of a sudden, Precious seems much, much more enlightened. At best, the black supporting characters in The Blind Side are obstructive bureaucrats; by and large, they're junkies and thugs. None of them is a match for good ol' straight-talkin' Leigh Anne.

And so we come to Bullock's Oscar-winning performance. There's nothing wrong with it, but she doesn't do much except strut around in tight skirts being sassy and self-righteous. Still, that almost worked for Sarah Palin.

In Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang, Emma Thompson's magical, hairy-warted nursemaid is back again to turn naughty children into nice ones. In the first film she was in a Victorian town. In the sequel, she materialises outside a farm in the 1940s (I suspect she's a Time Lord), where the luminous Maggie Gyllenhaal is coping on her own while her husband is at war. Gyllenhaal, who sounds more like Thompson than Thompson herself, has to deal with her three unruly children, their two snooty cousins, and her spivvy brother-in-law, Rhys Ifans, who keeps badgering her to sell the farm.

For much of its running time, the film is an ingenious entertainment machine fuelled by a profound understanding of what children enjoy, whether it's cowpats, talking welly boots, cowpats, piglets doing synchronised swimming, or cowpats. Thompson has written a properly funny script, which is performed superbly by Ifans, Maggie Smith, Bill Bailey, Ralph Fiennes and some estimable child actors. It isn't quite the classic it might have been, though, because the second half isn't as splendid as the first. The children learn to behave themselves very quickly, so Thompson cranks up a new plot, concerning their missing-in-action dad, which ends not with a Big Bang, or even a small whimper, but a protracted fart.

Peter Greenaway's return to the big screen, Nightwatching, revolves around a Dan Brown-ish theory that Rembrandt's masterpiece, The Night Watch, is a coded exposé of a criminal conspiracy. Seventeenth-century Amsterdam is recreated using minimalist stage sets, so the film seems like a punishingly long evening of pretentious student theatre, in which pseudo-poetry and modern slang are declaimed in a variety of European accents. One for Greenaway devotees only.

Also Showing: 28/03/2010

Lion's Den (113 mins, 18)

A pregnant Argentinian (Martina Gusman) is sent to a prison block where the inmates all have young children. A remarkable setting, but one that would have been served better by a documentary.

Storm (105 mins, 15)

Kerry Fox stars as a frumpy UN prosecutor who must persuade a witness to testify in a war crimes trial. The plot is Hollywood hokum, but the director cunningly disguises that by making his cheerless Euro-thriller look as drab as possible.

Perrier's Bounty (88 mins, 15)

In this Dublin-set, sub-Guy Ritchie comedy thriller, Cillian Murphy has to find €1,000 to pay back a gangster, Brendan Gleeson. It's a gratingly whimsical shambles despite some bright spots: I never thought I'd get to see Jim Broadbent as an action hero.

Shank (90 mins, 15)

Awful British yoof-sploitation thriller set in London in 2015 – a lawless wasteland populated by Mad Max extras. I blame Boris.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber's reviews will be printed in 3D, as befits How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans

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