To Kill a King (12A) nearly didn't get made. Filming stopped not once but twice when funds ran out, and it reached the big screen only because its star, Dougray Scott, dipped into his own pocket. It's a pity some more investors didn't do the same. Tantalisingly almost good, the movie is short of settings and exterior shots, and there are enough dingy, uncinematic scenes to suggest that maybe they should have scrapped the film and put on a play instead.
It's set at the end of the English Civil War. Charles I (Rupert Everett) has been confined to his quarters, and Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth) and his best friend Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott) are set to rebuild the country. As Cromwell pursues his militant agenda, Fairfax's fervour for beheadings is dampened by his own aristocratic heritage and by the royalist sympathies of his wife Anne (Olivia Williams). Jenny Mayhew's script is admirable in its tackling of big Shakespearean themes: whether change means destruction, whether the man who deposes a tyrant is fated to become one himself. Roth, stick-on warts in place, has animal magnetism as Cromwell, and Everett is nuanced as the stuttering king, assured of his divine right to sneer at his subjects. Unfortunately, Scott doesn't have the charisma to carry the film, nor does he look or sound like the angel-faced nobleman that everyone keeps saying Fairfax is. Still, he did stump up the cash.
If The Actors (15) wasn't made in Ireland, I'd label it as a British post-Ealing crime caper and pigeonhole it next to The Parole Officer (with whom it shares two of its lead actors). Michael Caine plays a past-it thesp who persuades his protegé, Dylan Moran, to disguise himself as an English gangster and con a small fortune from a Dublin crook (Michael Gambon).
Naturally, things go wrong, and Moran has to adopt further false identities. The comedian's versatility is a revelation, and his freewheeling sense of humour chimes with that of Conor McPherson, the writer-director. But don't ask for depth or realistic characters. It was straining credibility to have the sultry Lena Headey fall for Steve Coogan's doofus hero in The Parole Officer. Having her fall for Dylan Moran at his most dim-witted is going too far.
With his directorial debut, Antwone Fisher (15), Denzel Washington demonstrates that he can make a film as anonymous and mainstream as anyone else in Hollywood. It's the true-ish story of a junior naval officer (Derek Luke) who's sent to a psychiatrist (Washington) after chinning one crewmate too many. While in therapy, Fisher recalls how he was abused by his foster family. But Washington and Antwone Fisher (who wrote the script) seem to think that his psychological progress as a man merits more attention than his sufferings as a boy. I don't think I'm giving away any twists when I tell you that Fisher conquers these traumas, finds a nice girl, reunites with his real family, and, hey, teaches the psychiatrist some lessons about love and life while he's at it.
In Kangaroo Jack (PG), two stooges are coerced by a mobster to courier $50,000 from Brooklyn to the Australian outback. For reasons I won't go into, the money falls into the wrong paws: a kangaroo hops off with the dosh, and if the stooges don't get it back, they'll be feeding the dingos.
(Don't trust the trailer, kids – the roo talks in one hallucination sequence, but for the rest of the film he's a dumb marsupial). Kangaroo Jack isn't bad at all as a children's comedy adventure. It's neatly plotted, and the dialogue has the wit you'd associate more with America's sitcoms than its films. What's more surprising is that it was co-written by Steve Bing, best known in Britain as the "love rat" father of Elizabeth Hurley's baby.
The heroine of Mostly Martha (18) is one of Hamburg's best chefs, but she's standoffish and curt, even by German standards. When her sister is killed in a car accident, her eight-year-old niece moves into her flat, and an Italian chef is taken on to assist in her restaurant. She isn't sure which of these incursions upsets her more. The film sticks to an old rom-com recipe, but its secret ingredient is its genuine charm.
Extreme Ops (12A) is a lame thriller about some people filming a commercial up a mountain. An excuse to show lots of snowboarding and skiing, it forgets for an hour or so that it needs a plot, and it's only then that a Serb war criminal pops up. In the Name of the Buddha (18) concerns the human cost of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It's a noble effort, but Rajesh Touchriver, the first-time writer-director, appears not to have left a single shot on the cutting room floor, however long, faulty or redundant it might be. The Happiness of the Katakuris (15) is an insane Japanese horror comedy kung fu musical.Reuse content