Greed, jealousy, love and sex. Lots of sex

OTHELLO Oliver Parker (12) BED OF ROSES Michael Goldenberg (PG) THE PEBBLE AND THE PENGUIN Don Bluth (U) JUMANJI Joe Johnston (PG)
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The Independent Culture
"Envy, greed, jealousy and love," promises the copyline: all the right ingredients for Saint Valentine's week. Othello is a new version of Shakespeare's play, but you have to inspect the small print carefully to spot his name. The director, Oliver Parker, sees the story as an "erotic thriller" and a hungry carnality governs the opening scenes: when Othello and Desdemona embrace at their reunion in Cyprus, the camera notes the reactions of those around, nonplussed and even offended (400 years after the Bard, miscegenation remains a hot issue). There is more sex, between Desdemona and Cassio, to illustrate Othello's jealous fantasies. And, for good measure, yet another scene between Othello and Iago takes place beneath a cart on which a couple is noisily making the two-backed beast.

Films of Shakespeare (of which a small glut is now in production) can take essentially one of two tacks, either making bold and free with the source, like Ian McKellen's and Richard Loncraine's fast-moving, Thirties- set Richard III, or concentrating on a clear, Cole's Notes reading for the A-level set. Othello belongs in the second camp. Parker, an actor directing for the first time, has made a film that, astonishingly for a story partly set and shot in Venice, looks a little dull. Instead he homes in on the core plot and the performances. Laurence Fishburne is an elegant, brooding Moor, if a shade muted, as though awed by the material. Kenneth Branagh's Iago is less single-mindedly malevolent than he is sometimes played; the actor's amiable image harnessed to a portrait of the character as an honest man drawn by his own jealousy into a deadly game. Irene Jacob as Desdemona seems a little uneasy with the tongue-twisting verse, but the secondary figures - Cassio, Emilia - are strongly rendered.

Lurve rules in Bed of Roses. Boy Meets Girl and, well, that would seem to be it: Boy does lose Girl for about five minutes, but the film can't muster enough story to pad out its slim 87-minute running time. Mary Stuart Masterson plays a high-flying investment banker with a dark past that, when eventually revealed is, as she admits herself, too banal even for Oprah Winfrey. Christian Slater plays a sweet florist who sees her sobbing at her window and cheers her up by sending flowers. He crinkles his eyes adorably, showers her with roses, has a family out of a Norman Rockwell sketch and seems like Mr Perfect, so much so that Masterson has momentary doubts about him. Is he a psychotic? Is he married? Is he remotely interesting? Is he hell. Like the lilac roses its heroine loves, the film has no thorns. For mysterious reasons this feeble effort seems to be having some box- office success in the States.

Boy penguin meets girl penguin in The Pebble and the Penguin, a cartoon fable based on the bird's supposed real-life mating rites: the male presents a pebble to the female who becomes his for life. Everything is slightly off here, from the overture, a Barry Manilow ballad that bores on about "one perfect pebble" while the pages of a music score unfold self-importantly as though we were listening to Beethoven's Ninth. The charmless penguins, grotesquely coloured and conceived, look more like paperback books or chocolate bars than the birds they're supposed to resemble.

Based on a children's book written on the eve of the computer boom, Jumanji refers to the name of an ancient board game that looks like Ludo but beats the new technology hollow in the virtual reality stakes. In 1969 Alan Parrish, a small boy living resentfully in the shadow of his rich, autocratic father, finds the Jumanji box buried on a construction site. When he rolls the dice, a malevolent force is set in train: as African drums rumble, each move the players make is attended by some disaster. Soon Alan is sucked through the eye of the game board, while his friend is driven mad by an attack of vicious bats.

The film then leaps to the present. Alan has long since been missing (his parents think he has been murdered), the town has gone to seed (you can buy a bazooka over the counter) and two new kids discover the Pandora's box. Their game summons up mosquitoes, a monsoon, a trigger-happy big- game hunter and much else besides, none of which goes down a treat in New England. Finally Alan himself re-emerges, grown-up but wild after 26 years alone in the jungle (Robin Williams, as yet another of his child- men characters), and they realise they must play the game to its end to conquer its magic. The eruption of Africa into small-town America seems to stand for the return of the repressed: it's only by facing his fear of his father that Williams can win the game and the day - there's something faintly patronising about using the tropics as a metaphor for the "dark continent" of the unconscious.

Jumanji is not, you gather, suitable for small kids, nor does it quite deliver the jolly mayhem promised by the poster. The special effects are impressive: a brilliantly life-like, computer-generated elephant stampede, a slightly less plausible lion and band of jerkily animated monkeys. But for all the attempts to liken it to Jurassic Park, its story is more old- fashioned: a community that has gone sour because of one wrong turn in the past (Mr Parrish's unfair sacking of a visionary employee) is set back on track for happiness, just like Back To the Future, Gremlins and their joint granddaddy, It's a Wonderful Life.

n On release from tomorrow

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