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The Independent Culture
Un Air de Famille (15). Based on a play by French writer-actors Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, this unassumingly shrewd film approximates the conditions of the Mike Leigh pressure cooker, bringing long- simmering familial tensions to a claustrophobic yet cathartic boil. Set in a drab provincial cafe, the movie unspools over the course of an evening get-together. The attendees are familiar: shrewish mother, sharp-tongued daughter, two chalk-and-cheese sons - the cafe's gloomy proprietor, whose wife has just left him, and the mama's boy, a horrendously self-absorbed executive. Jaoui and Bacri have an ear for heat-of-the-moment accusations, but the script's strongest feature is the pungent comedy that seems to erupt out of nowhere. Director Cedric Klapisch makes no effort to mask the inherent staginess, but he shoots the drama with a fair bit of wit and imagination.

I Went Down (15). Strong-armed by the local mob boss, a gormless Dublin ex-con (Peter McDonald) sets off on a cross-country wild-goose chase, accompanied by an improbably loquacious minder (Brendan Gleeson). Though not exactly original, Paddy Breathnach's odd-couple road movie is at least more colourful - and more off-colour - than most Tarantino knock-offs. In fact, this droll, unpredictable comedy is more infectiously good-natured than anything Tarantino could ever come up with. Credit the terrific lead performances and the impertinent, cliche-dodging script by The Weir playwright Conor McPherson.

Mouse Hunt (PG). A broadly stylised and imaginatively vicious live-action cartoon, Gore Verbinski's film generates just about enough laughs to neutralise its potentially deadly Home Alone-with-a-rodent plot. The film's Laurel-and-Hardy heroes are a pair of mismatched brothers (Nathan Lane and Lee Evans), who inherit from their father (William Hickey) the family string business and a derelict mansion. When it transpires that the latter is of considerable value, the siblings set about exterminating the property's unusually territorial mouse. The mean-spirited tone owes more to old cartoons than it does to the bratty, Macaulay Culkin school of sadism.

Hard Rain (15). This must be what happens when script development stops at Heist During Flood. As directed by veteran cinematographer Mikael Solomon, Hard Rain has no characters to speak of: Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid and Minnie Driver are all present, but have little to do besides getting wet and sounding trite.