"Wrench time" in The Fast and the Furious is mechanics' slang for the man-hours you put in fine-tuning your motor, though it also handily describes the experience of watching the relentless slam-bang of this auto-action thriller – it's a bit like a non-stop drag race designed for 12-year-old boys with attention deficit disorder.
It goes like this: undercover cop Brian (Paul Walker) ingratiates himself with a gang of speed freaks who razz around the streets of LA as if it were the Monaco Grand Prix. The gang's top dog, Dominic (Vin Diesel), is chief suspect in a series of truck-jackings, though Brian's investigation is soon complicated when he falls for Dominic's sister (Jordana Brewster), a plot duplicated pound-for-pound from a late-Eighties thriller starring Charlie Sheen – the title mercifully escapes me. Yes, things have reached a pretty pass when they start ripping off old Charlie Sheen movies.
If the dentist-drill whine of turbocharged engines doesn't set your teeth on edge, then the elephantine pounding of the nu-metal soundtrack possibly will. Amid the automotive mayhem, the acting naturally takes a back seat: Vin Diesel has been talked up as a new action hero, but he's slumming it after his performance in Boiler Room.
Paul Walker has the weakly handsome looks of a Gen-X Rob Lowe – like we needed one. And what a disappointment to see Michelle Rodriguez, the spitfire boxer in Girlfight, selling her snarl so cheaply as Diesel's girlfriend. It's as if director Rob Cohen is determined to outdo Gone in 60 Seconds for the number of handbrake turns and hotrodding clichés per minute: if we declare him winner, can we then all go home?
Every time you think the Brit gangster-flick revival has run its course, another bleeding contender struts on to the screen. Shiner is director John Irvin's belated bid for a piece of the cockney-hard nut action, and stars Michael Caine as Billy "Shiner" Simpson, a seedy boxing promoter whose self-delusion launches him on a freefall to damnation. It's fight night, and Shiner is proudly pitting his own son, "Golden Boy", against an American champion; what's more, he's bet the family fortune on the kid winning. Yet all is not well: the police are about to arrest Shiner for financial fraud, and everyone but him realises that Golden Boy is completely outmatched by his opponent.
Caine carries himself handsomely in the title role, though he's not best served by Scott Cherry's clunky, foul-mouthed screenplay, and while the picture of British insecurity up against Yankee muscle feels true to life, it also reminds you of a much better film, The Long Good Friday. The big fight is about the least convincing exhibition of boxing I've ever seen, and the last half hour, with Caine seeking vengeance around London in a bloodied dress shirt, lands a fatal body- blow on plausibility.
Difficult to know who might want to go and see The Martins, unless Lee Evans has unsuspected battalions of fans. He plays a clueless toerag named Robert Martin, who flips out when he fails to win an "island holiday" prize for his wife (Kathy Burke) and kids. Armed with a gun, he sets about putting things right. Writer-director Tony Grounds not only misjudges the tone, which wobbles between sentimental farce and kitchen-sink realism, but fails to see that the toilet-mouthed, mullet-sporting Martin isn't a loveable loser – merely a pain in the neck. "You are the people we cross the road to avoid," his next-door neighbour tells him; you should do likewise with this movie.
And not much better to report of the week's other Britcom, Greenfingers, which means well but comes a cropper on a spotty script and weedy characterisation. Clive Owen plays a jailbird who discovers the joys of gardening and inspires fellow inmates to create a garden fit for the Hampton Court Flower Show. Lending their support are a horticultural guru (Helen Mirren) and her comely daughter (Natasha Little), whose romance with Owen is the story's other unlikely bloom.
The film offers a plea for gentle rehabilitation and tolerance, which is nice, but it comes with some clanking symbolism, limp comic sallies and a soundtrack that features U2 and Sting: that's taking tolerance a little too far.
Most enjoyable film of the week, against the odds, is Pandaemonium, Julien Temple's passionate, disarming account of the friendship between Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Linus Roache) and William Wordsworth (John Hannah). Never afraid to risk ridicule, Temple casts the two poets as a sort of Lennon and McCartney of the English Romantic movement, with Coleridge as the hipster idealist, Wordsworth his loyal but competitive collaborator, and Dorothy (Emily Woof), William's sister, in the role of shared muse.
Beautifully photographed, whether the golden-yolky chiaroscuro of a firelit room or the rolling expanse of the Lake District – certain shots are reminiscent of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich – the film is also alive to the turbulence of Coleridge's psyche, gripped as it was by the fevers and paranoid hallucinations of the longtime opium addict. There are some awful lines in Frank Cottrell Boyce's script, but Temple's bold directorial strokes and a trio of fine performances make this a peculiarly engaging enquiry into the poetic imagination.Reuse content