Even if you discount their names, Wimbledon (12A) is ridiculously similar to Notting Hill. They're both Working Title romantic comedies set in a picture-postcard London; they're both about a pale, hesitant English chap and a more successful, sexually confident American beauty; and in both films the course of true love runs smoothly, the only bumps in the road being some door-stepping paparazzi and eccentric relatives. The one element that's changed in the move from W11 to SW19 is that the sweethearts are now tennis pros. Paul Bettany stars as a British also-ran who's wild-carded his way into one last grand slam before he retires to a country-club coaching job. No one expects him to get past the first round - even his brother bets against him - but when he's seduced by Kirsten Dunst, a hotly tipped Yank with Sharapova looks and McEnroe temper, his form improves no end.
Wimbledon fortnight gives the film a framework, but not much else. The computer-enhanced rallies don't convey a fraction of the excitement of a genuine tennis match, and the script - not written by Richard Curtis - barely hints at the sacrifices required to make a champion. It's far too bland for that. As dilute as a glass of barley water, the dialogue doesn't have many jokes, the supporting characters don't have much personality, and the romance convinces less as a life-changing passion than as a convenient exercise regime.
Still, Richard Loncraine, the director, ensures that the film flows better and looks sunnier than any Working Title rom-com since Four Weddings. And Bettany, the film's real wild card, has all the stammering charm of Hugh Grant, plus twice the raw emotion. There's little drama, but at least it's painless and easy to watch.
In She Hate Me (15) Spike Lee tries to intertwine two stories that have nothing in common except their leading man. He is Jack (Anthony Mackie), a senior drug company executive who reports his boss's shady dealings to an ethics commission and is rewarded with instant unemployment. That's story number one. Just after he's fired, his ex-girlfriend employs him to impregnate her lesbian friends for $10,000 per conception. That's story number two. How an agit-prop drama about corporate ethics fits together with a satirical farce about sexuality will be apparent to nobody except Spike Lee, and possibly not even to him. In a film that lasts well over two hours, he forgets about one storyline or the other for 20 minutes at a time. It's a pity he didn't just split the stories up. Separately, they might have been audacious films; together they're an embarrassing whole that's a lot less than the sum of its parts.
Cellular (15) stars Kim Basinger as a science teacher who's held hostage in an attic by a criminal gang. By two remarkable strokes of luck, there's a broken phone in there with her, and Basinger has the electronics know-how to fix it - almost. The problem is, she's able to make just one call to one random mobile phone, so she has to persuade a complete stranger to drive to her aid before the crooks nab her husband and son. The film is a slick, adroit cross between Speed and Phone Booth, although it plays so many of its scenes for laughs that there's not much room left for thrills.
Adapted from the Georges Simenon novel, Red Lights (15) is a French thriller fuelled by the tensions between a husband and wife (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Carole Bouquet) as they drive into the country, tensions that are aggravated when a fugitive hitches a ride. The film runs out of gas before it reaches its destination, but for the first hour Red Lights is one of the few road movies to admit driving is more to do with traffic jams and gritted teeth than freedom and adventure.
The Punisher (18) is the second film to be based on Marvel Comics' trigger-happy anti-hero. In the first one Dolph Lundgren was the snarling vigilante; in the new version it's Thomas Jane who vows revenge on a Miami crimelord (John Travolta). Amazingly, the new film is the worse of the two: a calamitous attempt to combine grisly blood-letting with the daftest of superhero campery.
Save the Green Planet (18) is a barmily inventive, genre-mashing Korean movie in which a mad beekeeper kidnaps a businessman, convinced that he's an extra-terrestrial invader in disguise. Switchblade Romance (18) is a short, sharp French slasher movie that gets right back to nerve-shredding, girl-meets-psycho basics, and then gives the scenario one fiendish twist. Spivs (15) is a so-so Britflick about some East-end confidence tricksters who is landed with a lorryload of illegal immigrants. Vodka Lemon (PG) brings wry humour to the plight of some destitute Kurdish villagers in icy, post-Soviet Armenia.Reuse content