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Sliding Doors (15). Five minutes into this gimmicky romantic comedy, Gwyneth Paltrow splits in two. Had this amoeba-like fission occured throughout the film at five-minute intervals, it would have spawned 1,048,576 Gwyneths (I did the maths; I was bored). Director Peter Howitt's high concept isn't nearly as disturbing - he simply flip-flops between two versions of the same woman in an oafishly whimsical reverie about romantic destiny. The pivotal replication happens on the tube, moments after Helen (Paltrow) has lost her job as a publicist. Helen 1 - who catches her train - meets dream man James (John Hannah), catches her boyfriend (John Lynch) with his ex (Jeanne Tripplehorn), dumps the bastard, gets a fetching blonde hairdo, and sets up her own PR firm. Helen 2 - who misses the train - gets mugged, becomes a waitress, and takes to wearing her brown hair in pigtails. Unduly smug about its flashy conceit and otherwise utterly empty, the film isn't helped by the actors: Paltrow's affectations are endlessly annoying, and Hannah, Lynch, and Tripplehorn all turn in grating one-note performances.

The Big Lebowski (18). Something of a letdown after Fargo, Joel and Ethan Coen's very particular take on Raymond Chandler is none the less an agreeably rambunctious shaggy-dog story, propelled by delightful performances and an eccentric soundtrack. Jeff Bridges plays the Dude, the film's permanently befuddled pot-head hero, thrust into a kidnapping farrago that gets progressively more haphazard and surreal. Resolutely cartoonish, the movie is basically a succession of outlandish comic set-pieces that have little to do with one another. And taken on those terms, it's difficult to fault.

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