The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (PG)<br/>xXx2: The Next Level (12A)<br/>In Your Hands (15)<br/>Clifford's Really Big Movie (U)<br/>A Dirty Shame (18)

I don't know what the answer is. But it most certainly isn't 42
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (PG) is the story of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), a disgruntled Englishman who learns one morning that his house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass, and, co-incidentally, so is the planet Earth. He also learns that his friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is an alien who's researching a travel guide named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (PG) is the story of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), a disgruntled Englishman who learns one morning that his house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass, and, co-incidentally, so is the planet Earth. He also learns that his friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is an alien who's researching a travel guide named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

During Douglas Adams's life, The Hitchhiker's Guide was a radio serial, five novels, a TV series and a play, but the one thing it wasn't was a film, despite all of Adams's toils to get the project off the launchpad. It's difficult to see what the hitch was. If you took the novel, and scored out the passages Adams put in deliberately to deflate the tension, you'd have a cracking sci-fi comedy blockbuster, fully loaded with robots, bug-eyed monsters and Kill-O-Zap laser guns. But that's not what the film-makers have done. I don't know the extent to which Adams was responsible - he wrote several drafts of the screenplay before he died in 2001 - but someone has shoved in too many extraneous scenes featuring too many extraneous characters, something which seems all the more unwise when the story's original characters have so little to do: after the opening, Mos Def just hangs around in the background.

The film is as ungainly and misshapen as the Vogons who blow up the Earth. That's not to say that it's a waste of outer space, however. It's saved by its many delightful moments of Pythonesque absurdity, and there's some fantastic design, much of it realised using the low-tech model-making and foam-rubbery puppetry of a Terry Gilliam film. Any galaxy in which the heroes can be transmogrified into knitted dolls, and in which planets can be closed for the day, is a galaxy that's worth a visit.

Of all the people the producers of xXx2: The Next Level (12A) could have chosen to replace Vin Diesel when he left the franchise, it's hilarious to think that they went for Ice Cube, a chubby chap who really shouldn't be seen in a wetsuit. Still, at least the film - if not the costumes - is tailored to fit him. Whereas xXx gave us a smirking snowboarder jaunting around the world, xXx2 stays home in America, and its hero is a soldier from the ghetto who favours guns, not gadgets. The entire movie seems to be sticking two fingers up at the extravagant, Bondish antics of the movie before it. Unfortunately, this would-be seriousness is cancelled out by a scenario so risible it would have Austin Powers sniggering.

In Your Hands (15) is the new Dogme film, a slow, earnest drama about a priest in a women's prison who hears that one of the inmates has messianic powers. Compelling for a while, it tails off badly, as if the writer got too depressed to finish it.

In Clifford's Really Big Movie (U), a Godzilla-sized canine joins a troupe of performing animals. It's a pleasant, positive cartoon that's strictly for young children, although if their parents stay awake long enough they should enjoy the Mission: Impossible pastiche that features a cow unicycling along a tightrope.

A Dirty Shame (18) stars Tracey Ullman as a frigid harridan - until, that is, a blow to the head turns her into a nymphomaniac, and she joins a secret society of fetishists. Yes, it's a John Waters film. But while the gags have Waters's mucky fingerprints all over them, you wouldn't think A Dirty Shame (right) was the work of a fiftysomething auteur. Judging by the hamfisted directing, the over-acting, and the shambolic script, you'd guess that an adolescent had watched an episode of South Park and tried to stretch it to feature length.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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