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Mad City (12)

available to rent now

CINEMA RARELY stoops to the subject of television other than to give it a good bollocking and, at first glance, the premise of Costa-Gavras's siege drama appears to guarantee a scolding for the box. Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) is a hard-nosed TV news journalist, becalmed at a regional station. While on a duff story at the local museum, he can't believe his luck as a kidnap accidentally develops from a clumsy attempt by ex-employee Sam Bailey (John Travolta) to get his job back. Within hours, the veteran newsman has spun Bailey's misadventure into a tragic gesture of the disenfranchised working-class male, tailored for a TV audience of millions.

Ace In The Hole and Dog Day Afternoon might be the obvious influences, but Costa-Gavras observes all the participants in Brackett's media circus with a cool eye. In doing so, he coaxes solid, unfussy work out of his two leads. Hoffman poises Brackett nicely between his hunger for "the best show in town" and the tatters of his conscience, while Travolta knows that the dim Bailey deserves our scorn as much as he does our pity.

Lost In Space (PG)

available to rent now

DESPITE THE much-trumpeted special effects, this big-screen treatment of the US TV series looks pretty cheap. In part, this is due to its screenplay, which attempts to pack family melodrama, shipwreck memoir and time-travel into an unsettling 130 minutes. The computer-animated production design becomes just one more tawdry element competing for our attention.

The efforts of the cast, including Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc and Heather Graham, don't do the film any favours either. They valiantly attempt to play the whole enterprise tongue-in-cheek. But there's only so much mileage to be had from the fact that the Robinson family, a gazillion miles from anywhere and engaged on a mission to save the earth, seem more concerned with whose turn it is to do the washing up.