The Critics: Thank heaven for little girls

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The Independent Culture
Hollywood likes its children to be cunning. It often calls on them to bring lovers back together and outwit the vile. A bargain is struck - life will be innocent and delightful if the child can achieve something monumentally adult first. Nancy Meyers's remake of The Parent Trap (U), the 1961 Disney film, does this. It has twin 11-year-old girls accidentally reunited after years of separation, plotting to bring their divorced parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) back together.

In the original film, it was Hayley Mills who played both twins. This must have been a sapping process - acting at brick walls, responding to a performer that's inside your head and scheduled to emerge some time after lunch. There was always something deliberately respectable about Mills, but in that film, something unselfishly fragile too. Her innocence lay in her articulation. Phrases were elided up and then compressed in the haste of emphasis. This gave the original Parent Trap a sweetness, even though it was really a film about separation and tremendous longing.

Although the remake is purposefully sillier, it hasn't the moments of openness, the baby-bird gape of the original. The only new thing it has to offer is its newness. There is an evil girlfriend with a chin, and a Labrador. It's pantomime, really. The two girls (both played by the freckled Lindsay Lohan) are rational beyond endurance whilst the others rush about shrieking in primary colours. A butler emerges in blue Y-fronts; the children avert their eyes. However temporarily mature, there's only so much they can take.

The Boys (18) is The Parent Trap's inverse. It's clever, and cripples delight. Three brothers live with their tormented women in a Sydney suburb. The boy-men, now in their early thirties, have always been thugs, and the women (headed by Toni Collette) probably always chain-smoked through lemon lips. One of the boys (David Wenham) is just out of prison, where he "read a Science Fiction novel", apparently. He raged before, but now feels qualified to rage and chat, and his low-calorie mantras make his housemates feel an almost physical pain. Whenever he starts going on, in his deviously benign voice, about the Magic of Freedom (always the amateur philosopher's favourite topic), Colette aggressively crosses her arms and Mum clutches her stomach. His brothers snarl. Then they all bitch and threaten and gaze gloomily at the telly. Director Rowan Woods peers through cracks in doors, as though ashamed to report the full extent of what's going on. But it's too tense ever to be sodden and dreary.

Lynette Curran as Mum gets it so right. There she is, with her head of buoyant curls, hopeful in jaunty socks, and yet she's creator and guard to such heartless, punitive children. Her bewilderment is immense. By the end of the film it's everywhere, like the goblin in one of Brian Patten's poems that "squats inside you, distributing poisons". Woods offers little analysis of the dysfunction, and although there is little plot to speak of, these people still emerge as characters. This is a brilliant, horrible film, a very unkind Mike Leigh - it's all untenderness and pale necks, the lard beneath the skin.

Three years ago someone bought me a David Duchovny calendar. I took it as an ironic Christmas present, which always means a car ride to the charity shop. It showed Duchovny in denim, Duchovny accidentally topless, Duchovny in soft greys. He is one of those Hollywood actors who in real life is rocky smart and married for love. But unfortunately there is nothing of his PhD about Duchovny's face, nothing speculative or mysterious. He's a man who conditions his hair.

Certainly, it's tough to buy him as a Californian surgeon struck off for operating while high on amphetamines. In Playing God (18) he is jobless, and spends his time wrapped in a blanket on the settee drinking heroin milkshakes and screening calls. One day he meets a crime boss (Timothy Hutton) who employs him as quack to the lawless. I suppose there is something Faustian about all of this, but Hutton's baddy, with his golden rinse and brattish folly, is precisely the kind of sexy rascal Duchovny should mimic. Playing God borrows from 1970s cop shows (keyboards and lip gloss) and is funny by accident. Hutton's character is called Raymond Blossom - a collection of delicious consonants surely best articulated by Rowan Atkinson.

I thought I might laugh at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (18), re-released in time for Christmas (very humbug). But Tobe Hooper's 1974 gloob flick is too adroit ever to be a giggle. A van full of young, hippy-ish Americans mistakenly arrives at the house of a chap who chops up anyone who stops by. The scariest thing about Hooper's murderer is that he trudges. His behaviour is metronomic.

Hooper's Texas is a melancholy place. It's just dust and space, ripped through by a few twentysomethings with progressive ideas and optimistic bodies. They are dealt with accordingly. The film has more to say about innocence than you care to remember.