Putting in a good word for the stupid

Dumb and Dumber (12) Peter Farrelly Terminal Velocity (15) Deran Sarafian Tales from a Hard City (nc) Kim Flitcroft Postcards from America (18) Steve McLean Far from Home... (U) Phillip Borsos Little Big League (PG) Andrew Scheinman 101 Dalmatians (U) Disney Studio
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The Independent Culture
Gump and Gumper? The American success of Dumb and Dumber has inspired a flurry of editorial comparing it to last summer's no-brain buster, and the film itself mischievously invites the comparison: its poster (Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels slumped on a park bench) parodies the campaign for Gump. But the echoes are faint and fortuitous: Tom Hanks's clean-cut hero was a paragon of self-improvement (he showed that even the dimmest bulb can hobnob with presidents and grab his slice of the American pie).

Dumb is unrepentantly anti-social. Its dynamic duo is slobby, smutty, horny as hell (here's Carrey, mistily in love: "The first time I saw Mary I got that old-fashioned romantic feeling" (pause). "I'd do anything to bone her"), but thoroughly terrified of women, convulsed by the hilariousness of snot and piss and diarrhoea (for them, life is like a box of chocolates: you pig out on them until you're sick). They're first cousins, not to Gump, but to Wayne and Garth, Beavis and Butt-head, the sniggering American male adolescent id. When Daniels is passed a carrot to garnish a snowman, there's never a second's doubt about where he will stick it.

Dumb and Dumber will best be appreciated in its true glory after a couple of hours in the pub on a Friday night, but in the cold, dull light of Monday morning's press show, it still seemed pretty funny. Most of the gags are as old as Methuselah, but the film's very lack of comic ambition is also part of its charm. There's something deeply and obscurely comforting about waiting for the pay-off throughout a scene: the delicious moments of anticipation after our heroes enter a room containing two of the last known specimens of a rare species of bird, or after Daniels, about to go out on a hot date, is slipped a massive dose of laxative.

Carrey, the film's big selling point, is, curiously, not its greatest asset. His characters in Ace Ventura and The Mask both had a healthy dollop of street smarts (and indeed his most annoying feature is his own transparent self-infatuation). Here, even equipped with a pudding-basin tonsure and a chipped front tooth, he doesn't ever manage to make you buy him as a moron - his eyes are too bright and darting; he's too fast on his feet. The script can't resist giving him a couple of chances to outflank the opposition: palming off a dead budgie on a blind kid, or conning a burly redneck into buying him lunch. It's Daniels, the better, more versatile actor, who quietly steals the show as the slow-poke member of the partnership, and his long, loud and fragrant toilet turn will enter the movie pantheon cheek by jowl, as it were, with the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.

As PolyGram (the Four Weddings people) continues to push itself as a major new player in the global film business, it's sometimes useful to remember that the company's also still busy turning out stiffs like Terminal Velocity. The second daft sky-diving movie to hit Britain (the other being Drop Zone) in as many weeks, it stars Charlie Sheen as a self-styled "flying penis" who becomes embroiled in a preposterous plot cooked up by out-of- work KGB agents. He makes Carrey look like Einstein. Someone hands him a knife with funny writing on it: Cyrillic, they explain to him slowly. Duh, that must mean it's from Syria, ripostes Charlie, quick as a whip. Nastassja Kinski plays the femme fatale, but you would need to be a very dedicated fan indeed to want to see her in this.

Documentaries have become a near-impossible sell, so a medal for valour is due to the Feature Film Company: this week, hard on the heels of the excellent Hoop Dreams, it's fielding an even stickier wicket: the British documentary feature Tales from a Hard City. This is a sharp-eyed, funny portrait of four brash showbiz wannabes, plus their assorted "image consultants" and "personal managers", moving and shaking on the margins of a depression- locked Sheffield. Glen is a karaoke singer and pot-head. Paul is an ex- boxer financing his acting career with a series of desperate sponsorship scams: unsuccessfully trying to net a freebie car, he's eventually reduced to visiting Skoda, where they clearly need him even more than he needs them. Now all he has to do is swing himself some driving lessons.

Blonde mother-of-one Sarah wins tabloid fame after being arrested for dirty dancing on a Greek holiday; Wayne is the appalling, cigar-chomping impresario hoping to parlay this into a singing career. Wayne has the nose for a cute publicity angle. "The thing that might be good," he tells his wide-eyed protge, "is if you had an enormous sexual appetite." It's all stranger than fiction, even if one suspects that the characters are playing a little to the gallery, and some of the scenes seem too neat not to be contrived.

Steve McLean's Postcards from America is a confident and impressive first feature: an intimate dramatised portrait of the gay American artist David Wojnarowicz, which hops achronologically between his abused childhood, his adolescence as a street hustler, and the inevitable advent of Aids in his life. The film is highly polished in all departments and attacks its subject with an imaginative freedom that invites comparisons with Terence Davies's and Bill Douglas's autobiographical films. The small disappointment is that - unlike those two directors' work - it feels like an impersonal, slightly cold piece, partly thanks to the detached, prowling camera, partly, perhaps, because of the distance of McLean (who is British) from this very American story.

Slim pickings for the school holiday crowd: they have the uninspiring choice between yet another mushy tale of a kid and his pet, or a two-hour film about baseball. Far from Home: the Adventures of Yellow Dog, which has a young boy and his dog lost in the pine forests of remote British Columbia, makes you feel sorry for Jesse Bradford. Last time we saw him, as a kid abandoned by his family in Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill, he was reduced to eating photographs of food to ward off starvation. Here, he gets to munch on a maggot and barbecue a field mouse on a spit. The pooch, an elderly dog-eared labrador,duly wolfs down his share of the tiny joint and pants and slobbers a lot but fails to perform any acts of minor valour. A thoroughly inoffensive, mildly likeable film.

With Little Big League, the yarn of a 12-year-old boy whose wealthy grandfather bequeaths him a major-league baseball team in his will, you can see what all the French are banging on about when they attack Hollywood's cultural imperialism: why on earth should the average British kid have any interest in this mediocre, painfully slow movie crammed with obscure sporting statistics and incomprehensible discussions of baseball strategy?

A better bet might be one of the half-term hold-overs (recommended: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Black Beauty and The River Wild), or Disney's re-release of 101 Dalmatians, one of its more enjoyable animated classics, in which Cruella De Vil, the splendid villainess who dreams of a fur coat made from the pelts of Dalmatian puppies, finally comes into her own as a worthy heroine for the anti-PC Nineties.

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