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The Independent Culture
AT FIRST SIGHT (12)

Director: Irwin Winkler

Starring: Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino

There's a double whammy for Val Kilmer's blind masseur when he first finds love (with Mira Sorvino's architect) then gets his eyesight back in Irwin Winkler's human drama-by-numbers (above), apparently culled from the casebook of Oliver Sacks. Potent acting works hard to bolster the endless soap-operatics, but it's hard going all the way.

HH

THE HONEST COURTESAN (15)

Director: Marshall Herskovitz

Starring: Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell

The Honest Courtesan's game gestures at feminist emancipation can't mask the mustily old-fashioned nature of Herskovitz's costume caper. Catherine McCormack is the lowly beauty in 16th-century Venice who resorts to the oldest career in town, setting off a cavalcade of rompish shenanigans and arch dialogue against a backdrop of pretty period scenery. Rufus Sewell (as a handsome aristo) acts like his mind's on other things.

HH

IN DREAMS (18)

Director: Neil Jordan

Starring: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn

Made for Dreamworks, this fascinating folly has Annette Bening's hapless psychic tuning into the crimes of a shadowy child-killer. In the meantime, Neil Jordan drapes an otherwise stock chiller template with all manner of lurid dream scenes and nods to both Freud and fairytales (Bening's daughter is abducted during a school production of Snow White). By turns seductive and stupid, it overheats in a noisy splutter of exotic ingredients.

HHH

EXISTENZ (15)

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law

Cronenberg's latest (below) is like a digitalised Russian doll: lift off the first level of reality, and there's another one beneath. Jennifer Jason Leigh's imperilled games designer slips off into cyberland with Jude Law in tow. Willem Dafoe crops up as a duplicitous petrol attendant; Chris Eccleston as a master of ceremonies. But you're never sure what's real and what's not; who's human and who's hologram. eXistenZ misses the intensity of Cronenberg's best work (Dead Ringers, Crash), but what it lacks in weight, it makes up for in wit, panache and the sense of a neat conceit handled to perfection.

HHHH

KNOCK OFF (18)

Director: Tsui Hark

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lela Rochon

Dateline 1997. The Hong Kong handover is underway, and westerner-abroad Jean-Claude Van Damme has his mitts full with tackling a band of Russian bombers. Van Damme connoisseurs can sit back and tick off the checklist: the strung-together stunt sequences, the casual xenophobia, the haphazard plot lurches, the token phwoarr-factor (Lela Rochon's boss-girl), the wooden acting. All present and politically incorrect.

HH

SOLOMON AND GAENOR (15)

Director: Paul Morrison

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts

A pre-First World War, Valleys-set Romeo and Juliet (below), with Welsh lass Nia Roberts tumbling into the hayrick with Ioan Gruffudd's Jewish kid while her horny-handed, anti-semitic family look on in horror. Sensitive and well acted, Solomon and Gaenor nonetheless turns clunkingly heavy- handed in its final reel.

HHH

THE WATERBOY (12)

Director: Frank Coraci

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates

Adam Sandler is the gormless aquarian - ferrying water refills for a low-rent football team - in a juvenile romp that reunites the director and star of last year's infinitely more likeable The Wedding Singer. Essentially, this little-man-as-hero caper serves as little more than an indulgent showcase for Sandler's puppy-dog skills. Play his cards right, and the man could wind up as the Jerry Lewis for the new millennium. Bungle it, and he'll go down as this decade's Steve Guttenberg.

HH

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