It's all in your mind

Also showing: Albino Alligator Kevin Spacey (18) Event Horizon Paul Anderson (18) Jump the Gun Les Blair (15) Plein Soleil Rene Clement (PG) Keys to Tulsa Leslie Grief (18) Romy & Michele's High School Reunion David Mirkin (12)
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Despite the fact that Albino Alligator hasn't opened yet, you have already seen it. I know it sounds unlikely. But if you've ever watched a David Mamet play, read a David Mamet play, or even brushed your sleeve against a copy of one of David Mamet's plays, then the film's miniature power struggles, gnawing dialogue and anthropological fascination with macho rituals will have a familiar flavour.

This leaves one pressing question: why pay money to see Albino Alligator when its themes and characters are already languishing among the bric- a-brac of your memory? Because the actor-turned-director Kevin Spacey does the best thing anyone could do with such a derivative screenplay - he sets up interesting camera angles, gives his actors plenty of room to breathe and generally carries on as though he's the first person ever to make a film about a group of criminals staging an impromptu siege.

One of Spacey's most notable achievements is that he's managed to tease out that rare treasure: a great Matt Dillon performance. Dillon is his usual contradictory blend of vulnerability and blind bravado, but there's real weight and desperation to his portrayal of the jittery leader of a trio of crooks who land themselves some hostages when they burst into a basement bar, having just carried out a robbery. Dillon does most of his communicating with nervous coughs, and gets at least one moment of deeply touching self-delusion, when he assesses the situation - trapped in a bar surrounded by the police - and bravely announces: "We've got 'em right where we want 'em."

As you might expect, he is accompanied by our old friends The Sensible One (Gary Sinise) and The Psychotic One (William Fichtner), while the captives include a barmaid played by Faye Dunaway, who perfectly conveys the indignation of a woman aghast at being intimidated my men who are her moral and intellectual inferiors. Pounding the pavements outside is Joe Mantegna, a Mamet regular, who seems to be every director's first choice to portray a jaded detective these days, but is forced to play some comic scenes despite being impeded by a distinct absence of funny lines.

Only occasionally does Spacey appear eager to impress, such as when he makes a flashy cut from a dart to a coffee spoon, so that the former seems to be turning into the latter. Such misjudgements reinforce the vague impression that this is a film in which nothing happens - only with style.

In Event Horizon, a loud and nasty hunk of science-fiction horror, a spaceship which vanished in 2040 suddenly reappears seven years later, sending out distress signals. Going in to investigate are Dr Weir (Sam Neill), Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and their crew, though the film is obviously set in some parallel universe where there are no cinemas, otherwise one of the explorers would have said: "I'm not going in there - haven't any of you seen Alien?", and they all would have staged an industrial dispute.

Naturally, the film-makers have seen Alien - and more besides. But where Event Horizon almost transcends homage is in its unusual manipulation of characters, and its inspired set-design. It makes you wish that the rest of the film weren't so relentless in its efforts to make you spill your popcorn. The make-up artist was obviously being paid by the bucket of blood, and I hear that the sound designer gets commission on every eardrum shattered. Why not go the whole hog and make it 3-D? Overkill isn't the word. Migraine is.

Jump the Gun is a gentle comic drama about the overlapping lives of misfits in post-apartheid Johannesburg. It ambles along at the same pace as its drunken, drifter hero Clint (Lionel Newton), an electrician who alights in the city and meets Minnie (Michele Burgers), a prostitute whose idea of keeping fit is to do sit-ups with a cigarette clammed between her lips. Intertwined with this is the tale of Gugu (Baby Cele), who has come from Durban to stay with her aunt and pursue a career as a singer. If these stories sound unappetising, you can trust in the director Les Blair, a one-time collaborator with Mike Leigh, who uses the same improvisational methods as Leigh, resulting in a conspicuous lack of car chases but a wealth of characterisation. This leisurely film isn't to everyone's tastes, but surely no one can resist the inarticulate charms of Clint, with his droopy eyes and droopy moustache. When he tells Minnie that he loves her because "I've got no one else to fall in love with", you can believe that he means it in the nicest way.

Although I remain immune to the dubious charms of Friends, I will concede that Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe, has a knack for comic timing that her co-stars would saw their own legs off for. In her first major film role, she plays Michele to Mira Sorvino's Romy in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, and she has the wonderful manic energy of Teri Garr. Our ditsy heroines have spent the decade since graduation shopping, and turning the wearing of novelty ear-rings into a sport, but now their reunion is upon them and it's time to go back and impress all the sceptics who thought they would amount to nothing. Call it Bill and Ted with attitude, or a toothless Clueless: either way, the film uses up its best lines in the first 40 minutes, and only comes to life whenever the splendidly grouchy Janeane Garofalo is on screen, handing out acidic insults the way other people offer Polo mints.

What on earth is going on in Keys to Tulsa? Answers on a postcard please. This nonsensical picture appears to have been directed by a coma victim and edited by an axe maniac. From what I could discern, it's about a desperately hip journalist (Eric Stoltz) whose reacquaintance with an ex- girlfriend (Deborah Unger) and her Elvis-lookalike boyfriend (James Spader) gets him involved in a shady blackmail plot. If it makes sense to you, perhaps you wrote it. But avoid Keys to Tulsa, and be sure to catch the re-release of Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), Rene Clement's frosty 1960 thriller about a man who murders his best friend and assumes his identity. The tension is tantalisingly controlled, while the sight of the young Alain Delon languishing shirtless on a yacht provides a textbook definition of cool, and might be said to alone warrant the price of admission

All films go on release tomorrow

Comments