The Way, Emilio Estevez, 128 mins (12A)
Take Me Home Tonight, Michael Dowse, 97 mins (15)
Red Hill, Patrick Hughes, 94 mins (15)

A Canterbury Tale on the Way of St James – only someone forgot to pack the narrative

If films were judged on the sincerity of their directors' good intentions, then The Way would be getting rave reviews.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez as a vehicle for his father, Martin Sheen, it's a gentle drama that was shot on location in northern Spain, where the Estevez clan (Sheen is a stage name) has its roots. When you bear in mind how some Hollywood stars spend their time – Charlie Sheen, for instance – you have to applaud Estevez for shooting an uncommercial indie film in Europe, with a Spanish crew and a 70-year-old leading man.

The sad fact is, though, that if you judge The Way on the quality of the finished product, there's less to applaud. Sheen plays a Californian opthalmologist, whose 40-something son (Estevez himself, in flashback) dies at the start of an 800km pilgrimage route, the Way of St James. Sheen flies across the Atlantic to collect the body, but then decides to walk the "Camino" himself. Three strangers are soon tagging along: an Irish author (James Nesbitt) with writer's block – but not, alas, talker's block; an aggressive Canadian divorcee (Deborah Kara Unger); and a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) whose chirpy dope-smoking doesn't challenge any stereotypes.

The four become friendly, but otherwise the trek is less eventful than most strolls to the bus stop. Estevez's dialogue is clunkingly unsubtle, and yet, ironically, it's never clear what he wants to say. We're told almost nothing about who Sheen is, or what he's hoping to achieve by going on his nature ramble. For that matter, there's no explanation for his ability to outpace companions who are decades his junior. Over all, Estevez suggests that the pilgrimage is a positive experience, but religion and spirituality get such a scant look-in that the Pennine Way might have been an acceptable alternative. Indeed, the film seems to be edging towards the idea that the Camino de Santiago is just another backpackers' tourist trail which doesn't have any higher meaning. But Estevez can't quite bring himself to say that, or anything else.

Take Me Home Tonight has even less of a point to make. Topher Grace (also the producer and co-writer) plays a recent MIT graduate who bumps into the beauty (Teresa Palmer) he never had the guts to ask out at school. As luck would have it, there's a house party scheduled for that very night, so Grace plans to make his move during the sub-Superbad revels.

Palmer, however, is so nice to him, simpering at his every crass faux pas, that there's never any doubt as to how the evening will end. The air of pointlessness is thickened by the actors being so much older than their characters, and by the 1980s setting, which contributes nothing except an excuse to put "Come On Eileen" on the soundtrack.

Red Hill is a modern-day Australian Western which also serves as a game of Spot The Cliché. It's set in a two-horse mountain town in the middle of nowhere. Its hero (Ryan Kwanten) is a fresh-faced policeman who transferred from the city when he couldn't shoot an armed assailant. On his first day in the job, he learns that a legendary Aboriginal tracker (Tom E Lewis) has broken out of prison, and is intent on slaughtering the lawmen who arrested him 15 years earlier.

Before you know it, there's a posse on the streets, and there's either lightning in the sky, or a bright full moon, depending on what the scene demands. Oh, and did I mention that the hero's wife is pregnant?

By rights, Red Hill should be nothing more than a winking Grindhouse-like pastiche, but it manages to refer to countless earlier Westerns, while standing up as a taut, scary thriller that should have you perching on the edge of your seat or hiding underneath it. Patrick Hughes, who wrote, directed, edited, and produced, has crafted a slyly funny screenplay which never descends into parody, and while Red Hill looks as stylish and scenic as any Hollywood blockbuster, it's so low-budget that Hughes had to use left-over film stock from a recent instalment of The Fast and the Furious. It's gratifying to know that that franchise has facilitated some genuine thrills at last.

Next Week:

Johnny Depp is back (but Keira Knightley isn't) in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth instalment of the swashbuckling saga

Also Showing: 15/05/2011

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