The Critics: Cinema: He's the spy-next-door type really, isn't he?

Arlington Road (15) Mark Pellington; 117 mins Waking Ned (PG) Kirk Jones; 91 mins A Night at the Roxbury (15) John Fortenberry; 82 mins Seul Contre Tous (18) Gaspar Noe; 93 mins Southpaw (15) Liam McGrath; 77 mins
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The Independent Culture
In Arlington Road, Jeff Bridges plays a history professor who runs a course in the theory of anti-government extremism. He has a reason for this. His wife, an FBI agent, was killed by a family of rednecks whom her superiors mistakenly thought were involved in some kind of arms scam. In class, Bridges rants about being hoodwinked by an America at war with itself, an America smarting from the Oklahoma bombing and ready to accept any scapegoat, any lousy mitigation, any media-fed fairytale so long as it is plumbed of darkness. He is brimful with conspiracy theories, all of which sound veritable and sane. At night he comforts his young son, sleeps with his ordinary girlfriend (the marvellous Hope Davis, wasted) and is snug with his thwarted, hidden neuroses.

His son befriends a neighbour's son. The usually misanthropic Bridges gets to know the child's seemingly unremarkable parents - played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack - and for a while all is well, jolly even. Then Bridges begins to feel suspicious about Robbins. Why has he changed his name? Why does he deny the place of his education? We wonder if it is in fact Bridges who is unstable and unreconciled and dismantled.

Arlington Road could have triumphed. Like Hitchcock's Rear Window, its world is one of imagining and stealth and scabs. Like a hefty-limbed James Stewart, Bridges withers as he rustles the chintz. But instead, the film is resolutely obvious. How could Robbins be anything other than dodgy when he wears bobbly jumpers and is forever achieving at the barbecue? And Cusack, her lip-gloss an untrustworthy shade of candy-floss, is plain barmy.

Still, it stars Bridges, who is the only actor in Hollywood who can get away with having long hair. There is nothing considered about the way he wears his thatch, and it complements his great line in panic: Bridges cries out like a man crawling from the ruins of himself, smattered with nearly-grey tendrils, the muscles of his cheeks white under a privileged tan.

Waking Ned is set in an Irish village called Tully More, where an ageing trio - Ian Bannen, his wife Fionnula Flanagan, and friend David Kelly - are lottery-obsessed. Bannen discovers that one of Tully More's 52 inhabitants has just bagged the jackpot of six million pounds and hosts a chicken supper in order to ferret out the winner. They all drink whisky and gossip and sing, but none of his guests looks particularly luck-stunned. Bannen and Flanagan go to bed grumbling, their dreams of a proxy fortune thwarted.

Later, they discover that the winning ticket belongs to their old friend Ned Devine, who died in the blithe moments after his winning numbers were announced. Bannen and Kelly steal the ticket, but one of them must pose as Ned for the convivial man from the Lotto in order to get at the money. First they must persuade the village to comply with the deception.

Waking Ned was actually shot on the Isle of Man because the location managers "couldn't find the Ireland they were looking for in Ireland". This is because Ned's Ireland is an Ireland of the imagination, a sunny tangle of grass-tips and soft human laughs and pints of bitter that look yielding and fungal. Providing you can accept this cliche, Waking Ned is full of goodwill rather than sentiment, and you might not cringe when the villagers gaze out to sea feeling wholesome and sheltered from the passions of the huge Atlantic. If not, the sub-Riverdance music, puny love-interest (James Nesbitt, playing a smelly pig-farmer, and Susan Lynch, his peripatetic squeeze) and affability will render you thoroughly inflexible.

A Night at the Roxbury is a repulsive film. It stars Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan who are apparently a big giggle on the American comedy showcase Saturday Night Live, which is hardly flattery, because nobody has been funny on that show since 1975 (Chevy Chase, and even he wasn't much cop). Ferrell and Kattan play the mollycoddled Butabi Brothers, who live in Beverly Hills and work at their father's artifical-flower store. They are dense beyond endurance, and dream all day of the Roxbury - a Studio 54-type club -which has the good sense never to let them in. The wail, the plea from the pair might have been the same one voiced by Woody Allen in Play It Again Sam, which opens with Allen on the bed asking his alter ego Humphrey Bogart, "Why can't I be cool?" But the Butabi brothers haven't the nous to recognise that they are not cool, and the film-makers fail to recognise their creations as nothing but grim and shiftless in their foolish outfits, their attempts at excess, their nebbish dancing, and their ghastly deflowering, courtesy of two vacuum-packed prostitutes.

Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) is a film by Gaspar Noe. You are unlikely to forget this since his credit (with a drum-roll) takes up the whole screen at the start of the film, and he keeps reminding us of his jealous presence by barking printed captions at us - at one point challenging us to "leave the cinema in the next 15 seconds."

Philippe Nahon plays a middle-aged butcher who takes up with a bar-owner (Frankye Pain) after a stretch in prison. The couple move from Eighties Paris to the suburbs where Nahon punches Pain's unborn baby to death, and then scurries back to Paris, to hide and gloat. Nahon has 300 francs left, and spends it on digs with cottage-cheese wallpaper, and warm wine in corrugated cafes, and ruminates about "life" being "a tunnel". Noe's favourite words are "useless", "alone" and "rubbish"; so Nahon is frequently "alone" with his "flesh" and "useless, croaking in silence". This goes on and on. This is an opportunistic, boringly nihilistic film that expects us to be amazed at Noe's recognition and celebration of our depravity.

Southpaw is a documentary about the 22-year-old amateur light welterweight Francis Barrett. He comes from a community of travellers in Galway, whose coach, a barber called Chick Gillen, funded the local boxing club that brought Francis to success. Barrett (sunny, keen) is utterly winning, and the film features some glorious exchanges, usually in waterlogged phone boxes. Chick to Frankie: "Go for his body Frankie, go with the right and keep with the right, kill him with the right, hit him often with the right hand. And Frankie, don't injure anybody, all right?"