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The Independent Culture
THE FIRST WIVES CLUB Director: Hugh Wilson. Starring: Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton (PG) There's never any doubt as to who's wearing the trousers in Hugh Wilson's supposedly biting comedy about a trio of vengeful ex-wives (played by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton). "Hugh wanted to make a much darker picture," Midler says in this month's Premiere, "And we wanted to have a romp... so we stuck to our guns, and he came around because he saw how much fun it was turning out to be."

You can't help feeling that Wilson was coerced into taking the wrong path.

The First Wives Club seems to be warming up into something scalding in its first half-hour as the friends Brenda (Midler), Elise (Hawn) and Annie (Keaton) convene at the funeral of their friend, Cynthia (Stockard Channing), who committed suicide after being dumped by her husband in favour of a more pristine alternative. The trio compare their own situation to Cynthia's, and realise that their lives have been bulldozed by men. Time for the worms to turn.

While their plans for revenge might suggest the wickedness of Faye Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She Devil, the execution is disappointingly reminiscent of Nine to Five. The screenplay throws up some acerbic one-liners, and the supporting cast - including Maggie Smith and Sarah Jessica Parker - are pleasantly spiky in a way that the three leads rarely are.

Ultimately, it's a missed opportunity, far more tame and traditional than anybody involved seems to realise. But at least Midler is happy: you can't deny she got the romp she was looking for.

TRUE BLUE Director: Ferdinand Fairfax. Starring: Johan Leysen, Dominic West, Dylan Baker, Geraldine Somerville, Josh Lucas, Brian McGovern (15) This tepid drama is billed as the gripping story of the Oxford University Boat Race mutiny of 1987. But then you should never judge a film by its hyperbole.

Being a fanatic follower of the Boat Race will help your enjoyment of the film, and goodness knows you need something to see you through. For the rest of us, it's a slog through scene after scene of bitter confrontation as the defiant Oxford team is infiltrated by some dastardly Americans who try to change the way we Brits do things.

The coach, Dan Topolski (Johan Leysen), tries to hold things together and get Oxford back on its feet after the previous year's defeat, but at the centre of the team is a conflict between its president Donald McDonald (Dominic West) and Olympic sportsman, Dan Warren (Josh Lucas), who mistakenly believes that he knows how to win the race.

The film has many problems, including its broken structure, which places a university priest as narrator and then forgets all about him until it's time for an impassioned speech comparing rowing with religion. The long repetitive scenes of making up and breaking up between team members do not help, and the po-faced script does little to persuade you that honour and nobility are worth sacrificing yourself for.

But it is so numbingly uncinematic that it seems unfair to judge it as a movie at all. On its own terms, as a slice of stiff-upper-lip patriotism, it's every bit as embarrassing and antiquated as you might expect.

THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD

Director: Yim Ho. Starring: Siqin Gowa, Tuo Zhong Hua, Wai Zhi (12)

In this bewitching, sombre thriller from Hong Kong, director Yim Ho takes a factual case - a boy reporting his father's murder 10 years after the fact - and weaves a net of conflicting morals and emotions which makes for intriguing, not to mention demanding, viewing.

It's not just any old murder. This one, the boy claims, was carried out by his mother who wanted his father out of the way so that she could be with her lover.

Though the picture has a certain stateliness, the camera is very much alive, pursuing realism but accommodating sudden visual flourishes. And even if you're weary of the subject matter - the fracturing of the family unit - you can't fail to be thrilled by the execution.

THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU

Director: John Franken-heimer. Starring: Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis (12)

This film of HG Wells's story will have a tough time living up to the stories surrounding its chaotic production. Not that I can tell you whether it's any good or not - at the last moment, the advance screening was cancelled, so critics couldn't judge for themselves.

All I can say is that David Thewlis gets stranded on the eponymous island and stumbles upon a bizarre race forged out of a fusion between man and beast. Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer are responsible for this mess. And the film? Blame (or let's not be prejudicial) should go to John Frankenheimer, who stepped in when the original director, Richard Stanley, was fired after alleged clashes with Kilmer.

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