To a tee

Tin Cup Ron Shelton (15) Dragonheart Rob Cohen (PG) Nothing Personal Thaddeus O'Sullivan (15) Boston Kickout Paul Hills (18) The Wind in the Willows Terry Jones (U) The Adventures of Pinocchio Steve Barron (U) A Goofy Movie Kevin Lima (U) Alaska Fraser Heston (PG) Two Days in the Valley John Herzfeld (18)
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The Independent Culture
"Kevin Costner is Tin Cup" says the poster which, when you consider his career over the past few years, sounds like a strong contender for a "What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd" award. With this in mind, and knowing that the subject of his latest film is golf, you might think you had a surefire recipe for tedium here.

Not so: against all odds, Tin Cup turns out to be a haphazard but undeniably beguiling comedy. Costner is for once relaxed and appealing as Roy McAvoy, known to his friends as Tin Cup, a gifted but self-destructive golfer who has ended up running a crummy driving range in Salome, West Texas, while his less talented, more sensible rival Don Johnson is a top-league pro. The plot is plain silly: Costner falls for Rene Russo's sassy psychiatrist, who turns out to be Johnson's girlfriend, and sets out on a "mystical quest" to win her by winning the US Open.

There's not much more to it than that; but Ron Shelton (who directed Costner in Bull Durham) has a better idea than Costner himself of where his appeal lies. The film has an easy, flowing action, though the follow- through - the Open itself - is too slow. But above all, this is that rarest of things, a Hollywood film that celebrates the gifted amateur and the game loser: treasure it.

The pleasures are even simpler in Dragonheart. The film starts with the date 984AD flashing up on screen; and that's the last concession to historical precision it makes. Disillusioned knight Dennis Quaid, the last man to honour "the Old Code" (roughly, "Knights should be nice to people"), teams up with the last dragon, Draco (a smooth bit of voice-over work by Sean Connery), to make money. The two of them rediscover their ideals and set out to overthrow the tyrant King Einon (bitter and twisted David Thewlis) who has betrayed both of them. Hokum, you'll gather, but character-building hokum; and any slight implausibilities are more than made up for by wit, style and a superbly realised dragon.

It's something of a leap from here to Nothing Personal, Thaddeus O'Sullivan's film about Loyalist thugs in the Belfast of the Seventies: while the paramilitary leaderships are trying to arrange a ceasefire, Catholic father John Lynch is trying to find his way home to his children; meanwhile, a small band of UVF hardliners, led by James Frain, is contemplating ending the ceasefire their own way.

The contemporary parallels give the film resonance, but it doesn't really earn it. While it's nice to see things from a Protestant angle for a change, your understanding of the Troubles isn't extended much beyond the uncontroversial proposition that ordinary folk would like to get on with their lives if only a tiny minority of mindless terrorists would stop spoiling things. The film's main substitutes for moral argument are Lynch's agonised decency (backed up by his character's slightly over-cute daughter) and Frain's loopy charm. But if it doesn't work as political drama, as a thriller it's brilliantly compacted and taut.

Boston Kickout has apparently caused outrage in Stevenage, where it's set; elsewhere, it's unlikely to be terribly controversial. This picture of disaffected youth kicking against the pricks, and getting involved in crime and unhealthy sexual relationships along the way, feels derivative and shapeless, like an anthology of Plays for Today. Where it scores is in its picture of lives rooted in school and family (though parents are, naturally, part of the social problem, rather than fellow-victims), and in an unaffected central performance by John Simm.

The rest of the week's releases are children's fare. The Wind in the Willows deserves special mention, as being by some way the worst. Terry Jones has taken Kenneth Grahame's gentle pastoral picaresque and tried to turn it into a fable about the evils of Thatcherism: here Mole leaves home because it is being torn up by developers - the meadow where he lives has been sold off by Toad to the entrepreneurial weasels to fuel his motorcar mania. There are cute conceits (rabbits necking in every ditch and hedgerow, for instance), but the direction is slack to the point of incompetence and the moralising ham-fisted to the point of offensiveness - Jones even kits out the weasels in Nazi-style regalia.

Elsewhere, father-son bonding is the order of the day: in The Adventures of Pinocchio, of course, but also in A Goofy Movie and Alaska. None of them is as downright distasteful as The Wind in the Willows; all the same, any parent wishing to cement a bond with children should stay well away from any of these. Steve Barron's live-action Pinocchio is closer to Carlo Collodi's original than the Disney version, but that isn't necessarily a recommendation - it isn't a book you would give to a sensitive child. Decent acting by Martin Landau as Pinocchio's "papa", reasonable special effects, but lumpy pacing, dreadful songs, coarse sentimentality.

A Goofy Movie has the lovable klutz taking his son Max on a fishing-trip; but Max wants to go to LA to see a rock concert and impress his new girlfriend. Mediocre animation, too many hugs, too much learning; and again, the songs are pretty appalling. In Alaska, two youngsters set out into the wilds of, well, Alaska to rescue their stranded pilot father (Dirk Benedict, who connoisseurs may remember as Face in The A-Team). Along the way, the boy grows up and learns to love his dad, and they save a lovable polar bear cub from evil poacher Charlton Heston (whose son Fraser is the director - some more bonding going on there). Terrible script but no songs, some very nice scenery.

Robert Hanks

Two Days in the Valley is pleasant enough, writes John Lyttle, if your tastes in modern noir are - pardon the contradiction - passe enough. John Herzfeld's script begins with a seriously cool assassination and keeps ticking over on wordplay that runs the gamut from barbed to blunt; the dialogue's the thing and obviously what attracted the eclectic cast - everyone from Superman's Teri Hatcher to Paul Mazursky by way of James Spader and Eric Stoltz - to what is obviously a flawed project (push-button plot, jittery direction). But in the end it's a touch too knowing about Los Angeles, the movie business and movies about hit men for its own good. Not so much La La Land as La De Da Land