NEW FILMS

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The Independent Culture
101 DALMATIANS

Director: Stephen Herek. Starring: Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson (PG)

With all the merchandise already filling the shelves and emptying the pockets, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the new film of 101 Dalmatians - a live-action version of Disney's endearing 1961 animated feature - was almost superfluous. That's pretty close to the truth. While the film is efficient and sharply designed, and blessed with the same Ready Brek warmth as the original, you have to concede that it's a largely redundant exercise.

For those who don't know, it's the story of Pongo and Perdita, a pair of Dalmatians whose offspring is the reason why the evil Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) arrives at the house of their owners, Anita (Joely Richardson) and Roger (Jeff Daniels). Cruella has exotic coats on the brain, and to this end, she arranges the pups' abduction by a pair of oafish crooks (Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams).

Close has a ball as Cruella, essentially reprising her pantomime villain from Dangerous Liaisons and Fatal Attraction, only with better hair (she's a two-tone explosion, like a Dalmatian that's just been detonated). But the presence of John Hughes at the typewriter transforms the film into a different kind of cartoon altogether, as the action enters the grotesquely exaggerated realm of Hughes' own Home Alone movies.

Once again, we have two hoods upon whom a variety of excruciating tortures are visited. These episodes don't jar, though neither do they satisfy. But they remind you that, if the movie had had the courage to make a few more departures from its source material, we might have been left with something more than just a footnote. Will the young 'uns object? Not a jot.

STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT

Director: Jonathan Frakes. Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (12)

The eighth Star Trek movie, and the first to wisely dispense with the old crew, First Contact benefits from the balance between spirited humour and the flirtation with darkness. It's also the first Star Trek film to explicitly allude to cinema since the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

Now, we have set design, photography and an opening sequence all inspired by Aliens; costume design which indicates that the Enterprise crew's enemies, The Borg, are actually second cousins to the Terminator; and the theme - the impossibility of existing without human emotions - which Terminator II: Judgment Day handled in an equally sentimental fashion.

And yet these influences don't render the picture derivative - it's a light, well-paced piece which manages to be serious while ditching the sombre pomposity of earlier outings.

Naturally, the first 30 minutes are a drag, as the plot's foundations are laid: roughly speaking, we're talking time travel back to earth for half the Enterprise's crew, where they must ensure the survival of the man who is destined to create warp-speed space travel, and thus alert beings from another world of humanity's intelligence, bringing about first contact - the first meeting between humans and extra terrestrials, a union scheduled to bring peace to the universe.

Got that? Good, because it's only the subplot. The main battle in the film is between Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and The Borg. As a counterpoint to Independence Day it feels sweet and hopeful. And as a film, it's the first Star Trek picture to really earn its place on the cinema screen.

TWO MUCH

Director: Fernando Trueba. Starring: Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah (PG)

In this sloppy, inconsequential comedy, Melanie Griffith is so stilted that her performance might have been beamed in from the other side of the world - she feels out of sync, like a satellite link-up, complete with embarrassing delays and breaks in transmission.

Banderas plays the improbably named Art Dodge, a self-absorbed art dealer who supplements his income by turning up on the doorsteps of grieving widows, demanding payment for paintings their late husbands had supposedly reserved. This works against attempts to paint him as a loveable rogue, but the film careers towards romantic comedy regardless, with the arrival of a wealthy divorcee (Griffith), who earmarks him for marriage.

There's no fun in the way the director flogs every misunderstanding to death, or in the sickly Hello!-style tour of real-life couple Banderas and Griffith's relationship. But the brave will find compensation in the supporting cast of Joan Cusack and Danny Aiello.

ACTS OF LOVE

Director: Bruno Barreto. Starring: Dennis Hopper, Amy Irving, Amy Locane (18)

A smalltown Lolita, with Dennis Hopper as a teacher whose long-term relationship with his colleague, Amy Irving, hits a rough patch when flirtatious teenager Amy Locane swans into town.

Hopper gives a nicely understated performance in his first real romantic lead, erupting only once into psychotic mode. But the sight of him naked, making love to Locane, is (unintentionally) as terrifying as anything in Blue Velvet, and something you will work hard to shift from your mind.

STEAL BIG, STEAL LITTLE

Director: Andrew Davis. Starring: Andy Garcia, Alan Arkin (12)

Overlong drama about a pair of twins, both played by Garcia, battling over land, money and the value of life.

Twin films need to make a substantial distinction between their protagonists, but this is a fable with sketchy characterisation - Ruben is the good bro, Robby the bad. Garcia gives not one, but two poor performances under Davis's insipid direction, and the whole thing goes nowhere very, very slowly, brought to life intermittently by the wonderful Alan Arkin.

Ryan Gilbey

terrible twins

STEAL BIG, STEAL LITTLE ANDY GARCIA DOES HIS GOOD TWIN/ BAD (RELEASED THIS WEEK) TWIN ROUTINE IN A MESS OF A MOVIE

EQUINOX (1992) MATTHEW MODINE IN ALAN RUDOLPH'S REWORKING OF THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF IRENE JACOB PLAYS SOULMATES LIVING IN VERONIQUE (1991) DIFFERENT COUNTRIES IN KIESLOWSKI'S FABLE

DEAD RINGERS (1988)- JEREMY IRONS PLAYS TWINS IN CRONEN-

BERG'S GYNAECOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE

BASKET CASE (1981) CULT SIAMESE-TWIN HORROR

THE DARK MIRROR (1946) EARLY PSYCHOANALYTICAL THRILLER, WITH OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND AS A GOOD TWIN/ KILLER TWIN

A STOLEN LIFE (1946) BETTE DAVIS GIVES IT HER MELODRAMATIC BEST AS PAT, THE MURDERING TWIN OF GOODY TWO-SHOES SISTER, KATE

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