Parker's recipe for distaste : Cinema : THE CRITICS

THE FART, throughout history, has been the fanfare of the common man. First there was flatulence, then comedy. From Aristophanes to the Carry Ons, the ordinary bloke's wind has blasted at society. But as a rule such incontinence rarely disturbs the genteel fantasy of Hollywood (the camp-fire scene in Blazing Saddles is the exception that proves it). Alan Parker's The Road to Wellville (18) redresses the balance with a vengeance. In the story of Dr John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins), cereal inventor and crackpot health-theorist, Parker takes us back to basics: to bottoms, enemas and "stools". Given the anal fixation, you might term it humorous fundamentalism. Par-ker's Road to Wellville is paved with broken wind.

The plot, in as much as this loose assortment of loose bowels and bum gags can be said to have one, involves the arrival, in autumn 1907, at Dr Kellogg's spa in Battle Creek, Michigan, of a pair of innocents. Will and Elean-or Lightbody (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda) are naive, hopeful, earnest folk to whom Kellogg appears a messiah with a suitcase full of panaceas. Before long Will is on a diet of gallons of yoghurt. Sounds nice? It might be, if it wasn't all going into his anus. In the rest ofthe treatment de Sade meets Python. Inmates crouch in baths while electric currents are passed over their genitals; or are pummelled by loofahs; or their buttocks are wobbled into submission by merciless vibrating machines. This is a torture chamber designed by Heath Robinson. Worst of all is the communal singing: a relentlessly jolly, wordless yackering, to the tune of "Knees Up Mother Brown" - like a flock of geese reaching simultaneous orgasm.

Sex is one of Dr Kellogg's betes noires. He stalks it with orotund relish: "An erection is a flag-pole upon your grave". As Will and Eleanor furtively seek relief from Kellogg's grim regime, sex beckons them with increasing allure. For Will, there are fantasies about nurses and a masturbational device known as the Dusselberg Belt. Eleanor finds rap- ture in the hands-on approach to relaxation of a German physician, Dr Spitzvogel (Norbert Weisser).

The clash between Kellogg's monasticism and his charges' human impulses might have made for an engrossing drama - a battle between austerity and affection, ending up in a Reichian victory for sexual release. But Parker is too wound up in the trivia of his weird, lavatorial world to push forward a theme. There are other leads which are not followed up. Dana Carvey as Kellogg's black-sheep son (adoptive, for obvious reasons) has some promising scenes with a group plotting to con the public with a new cereal (health, one of them reckons, is "the open sesame to the sucker's purse"). But the film never follows up the question of whether the son's cynicism or the father's idealism is more dangerous. Parker is more interested in choreographing the boy's bombardment of his father's carol-service guests with bags of excrement (a real scream) than in delving into the disharmony between the two men.

Characters take a back seat to the loo seat. Anthony Hopkins gives one of those performances that fade with familiarity. As the proud, intransigent, slightly loony doctor, he has transformed himself into a beacon of evangelism. His close-shaven head seems shrunken with intensity and his voice is a rasping bark, squeezing past a pair of buck teeth. In his tan suit and plus-fours he looks like one of P G Wodehouse's crazier golfing goofs. And yet as he rants and raves, we find out precious little about what makes the doctor tick - or quack. Is it megalomania or altruism that courses through those robust veins? Kellogg ends up a monotonous monster, when there are hints that he was actually intriguing and ambivalent: his ideas come across as an odd mixtureof the prescient and the plain barmy. Likewise, the Lightbodies are as insubstantial as their name suggests.

Some people at the screening I went to laughed like drains. Maybe they were Alan Parker's family, or his backers. Most of us sat in pained silence. Parker, renowned as a populist, may be discovering that his own sense of humour is far out of the ordinary. This tale clearly tickled him. To me it seemed like a daft cameo, unbearably inflated into a full-length movie. A stare into your own toilet bowl will provide more merriment.

Luc Besson's American debut Leon (18) opens with one of those city skyscapes that Peter York wrote about in last week's Sunday Review. This helicopter routine is a favourite establishing shot for thrillers (see Clint Eastwood's police films). But here ithas the air of an assault, of the French director swaggering in to take Manhattan. Besson has made a sleek thriller (in the manner of his Nikita), about a French hitman (Jean Reno) who befriends a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman).This after her familyhas been wiped out in a raid by a corrupt drugs squad, led by an insouciantly vicious Gary Oldman.

Natalie Portman sports a precocious Lulu Brooks bob - a lucky charm for actresses, from Melanie Griffith in Something Wild to Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. She provides a glimmer of tenderness in a film of chic brutality. With her combination of sophistication and girlishness she is grave and affecting - but also funny, as she swiftly fibs her way out of any trouble. Besson is too pumped-up on violence and Oldman's psychotic posturing to realise that the really dangerous thing would have been to take therelationship between girl and man an inch or two further. As in Nikita, Besson is suggesting that a training in savagery is all a troubled girl needs to find her self-respect. Still, he brings off his bullet-ridden climax with great aplomb.

Darnell Martin's I Like It Like That (18) is the first film directed by a black woman to be funded by a major studio (Columbia). Lauren Velez and Jon Seda play a pair of Latinos whose marriage comes under strain when he goes to jail. She gets a job in a record company, working for a lascivious yet attractive white boss (Griffin Dunne). Her husband's mates are relaying every move (and more) back to him in jail. Martin shows how such hip, modern lives are undermined by the old atavistic forces of pride, machismo and crazy, misplaced romanticism. The further Velez rises, the more inevitable it is that she will be clawed back down. Though uneven, the film vividly captures the squabbling violence endemic on the breadline. The leads are engaging, and there is a colourful subplot involving a transsexual who lends Velez a pair of breasts. Martin lacks the crisp command of the young Spike Lee. But where much recent black film-making has been a facile blend of the incendiary and the simplistic, her world is satisfyingly messy.

Trapped in Paradise (PG) is a turkey left over from Christmas. Three brothers rob a bank on Christmas Eve in a small town in Pennsylvania, and have to cope with some madcap hiccups and major Capraesque scruples. The cast is promising (Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey - again), but the script is both dire and interminable. This is the sort of tired genre material that Quentin Tarantino has been turning on its head for a couple of years, and it's hard to take seriously now.

Cinema details: Review, page 74.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone