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The Independent Culture
The Avengers (12)

Warner, rental H

We all knew that Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg would be an almost impossible act to follow, but when Warner made a decision to ban critics from previews, there was a sporting chance that The Avengers might fall flat. Suffice to say, it did. Its principal downfall is its attempt at a post-modern perspective. The film is so pleased with its arch script and retro-kitsch aesthetics that the basic tension you would expect from any spy thriller is absent. Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes fail in their attempt to create a Mulder-Scully-style sexual frisson, while their English "archetypal" banter is guaranteed to raise your hackles. Even the plot revolves around that perennial symbol of Englishness, the weather.

The Replacement Killers (18)

Columbia Tri-star rental HHH

Hong Kong action star Chow-Yun-Fat plays a hitman with a conscience in Antoine Fuqua's thriller. His debt to the Triads can only be paid off when he carries out one last job on a cop, but he finds himself unable to eradicate his target in front of the man's small son. This tired plot offers few surprises but it is Mira Sorvino's no-nonsense role as the shrieking sidekick that affords the film some rare and genuine pleasure. Happily, Sorvino is not forced into a romantic liaison with co-star Chow Yun-Fat, instead she stands her ground in shoot-outs and retains her icy poise even when her knee has been dislocated. An excellent match for Yun- Fat's killer and a small breakthrough for women with blonde hair.

The Ice Storm (15)

Buena Vista, retail HHHH

Director Ang Lee's melancholy adaptation of Rick Moody's novel is an exquisite portrait of a dysfunctional family. Set in 1973 over Thanksgiving weekend, it sees the sexual liberation of the Sixties finally filtering through to the frozen suburbs of Connecticut, where grown-ups hold partner- swapping soirees while their children play peek-a-boo with each other's private parts. Though we feel their disillusionment at every turn, the central characters - including Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline - refereshingly experience neither retribution nor revelation. Lee subtly employs scorched colours, an elegant score and clipped dialogue to evoke an isolated community that is frozen both inside and out.

The Blackout (18)

FilmFour, retail HH

Abel Ferrara's degenerate psycho-drama sees a coke-addled movie star (Matthew Modine) driving his pregnant girlfriend (Beatrice Dalle) into leaving him. Grief-stricken, he goes on a binge with his director (Dennis Hopper) which causes him to black out. Eighteen months later, he is cleaned up and living with a lentil-eating Claudia Schiffer (better than you might think), but he suffers nightmares about a murder. Increasing bouts of paranoia lead him to seek out characters from his former life. While Modine does his best, Hopper acts with ludicrous ferocity. Ferrara's depiction of hedonism revolves around cocaine and a multitude of embarrassingly lascivious girls. It proves about as erotic as a rainy day in Scunthorpe.

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