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The Independent Culture
When the Cat's Away Cedric Klapisch (U)

Chain Reaction Andrew Davis (15)

Tromeo and Juliet Lloyd Kaufman (18)

Cats have had short shrift from film-makers. There is a veritable herd of cats prowling through our literature - mad Christopher Smart, sentimental Tennyson, facetious Eliot - but not many have made it to starring roles in the movies. When the Cat's Away (Chacun Cherche Son Chat), however, gives a literal, sleek moggy a central role.

The cat in question is a gorgeous black individual, wilfully named Gris- Gris (possibly because he's the story's eminence grise). He belongs to willowy young make-up assistant Chloe (Garance Clavel), and you can tell he calms her nerves because shots of the two in purring contentment are reliably accompanied by Chopin's Nocturne in B flat minor. When Chloe goes on holiday she leaves Gris-Gris in the care of a slightly batty old woman, Madame Renee, whose flat is already chocka with furry beasts. But on Chloe's return, he's vanished.

Renee, overcome with chagrin, puts the word out to her neighbourhood network of amiable biddies, and sets Chloe up with Djamel, a slow-witted but loyal handyman. They take to the streets, encountering a gallimaufry of grotesques and eccentrics in the local bars and clubs. Cedric Klapisch directs this meandering fable with breezy style (Chloe's holiday, for instance, is gracefully elided into one shot of her swimming in the ocean), and the naturalistic performances, especially from the blooming Clavel, are a delight.

The film is a fond dissection of street life in Paris's 11th arrondissement, where shabby old buildings are being pulled down and residents evicted to make way for gentrification. Chloe, who begins as a hermetic dreamer, is forced by her unplanned catectomy to engage in local society, meeting all the neighbours she'd never previously noticed, and eventually falling in love. So the moral turns out to be an adaptation of this newspaper's erstwhile slogan. Independent. Cats are; you can't be.

Chain Reaction, directed by Andrew "The Fugitive" Davis, is confusing. A team of scientists find a way to make cheap, clean energy from a moderately sized fishtank of water, by isolating the hydrogen and burning it off. However, if they don't get the frequencies right, the whole thing blows and razes eight city blocks in a monstrous fireball. What sort of chain reaction is that? Don't ask Keanu Reeves: he's only a machinist. Don't ask Rachel Weisz, either: she's a top-flight physicist, but the movie is only interested in her as a bit of (strangely chaste) love-interest.

Keanu and Rachel are framed by the Feds and go on the run. Morgan Freeman, the shadowy scientific patron, may or may not be a good guy. Nearly every subsequent scene is a chase - through bridges, frozen lakes, underground CIA compounds. Chain Reaction would be a totally cold exercise in efficient action-movie direction, were it not for its stars. Weisz, the latest ex- Cambridge actress to storm Hollywood, stuffs a little too much acting into her lines, but she does leap around in a yummy wine-red dress and tall boots. Keanu, meanwhile, is puffier and more solid these days, which lends interesting rough edges to his mesmerising iconicism. Perfectly watchable if you're drunk or foully hung over.

Troma Studios have been making twisted B-movies for more than 20 years, including the splendid Toxic Avenger. Their latest, directed by Lloyd Kaufman, is Tromeo and Juliet, a clever-dumb take on Shakespeare's play (which the makers think premiered in 1496). Lemmy from Motorhead delivers the prologue; the soundtrack boasts hardcore gems from Superchunk, Ass Ponys, Unsane and the like; and there is a stream of extremely funny, rubbery violence. There's also, close-up nipple piercing, much farting, and a few good lines. Capulet screams: "How would you like me to use your guts to Jackson Pollock the street?"; Tromeo abuses himself with the help of a Shakespeare Sex Interactive CD-Rom entitled "As You Lick It". But the movie doesn't keep its energy up, and nearly keels over when the lovers recite chunks of actual Shakespeare. Half boring, half marvellous, and probably fine for GCSE students (although they'll have to lie about their age)n All films are released tomorrow

Steven Poole

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