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The Real Blonde (15), available to rent from Monday

TOM DICILLO'S latest comedy drama sees the director return to the ensemble format with which he successfully sent up the indy film-making business in Living in Oblivion.

Joe (Matthew Modine) is a would-be actor who is having to forsake his thespian ambitions for the sake of some hard cash and his relationship with Mary (Catherine Keener), a make-up artist. Joe's English friend Bob (Maxwell Caulfield), a callow womaniser, lands a long-term soap role, but Bob would give it all up if he could only find a woman who meets the criterion of the film's title.

DiCillo's targets are Nineties sexual mores and fickle showbiz life, neither of which are original nor tackled with much enthusiasm. The battle of the sexes descends into half-hearted skirmishes which DiCillo either resolves too neatly - Mary ends up pummelling her lecherous self-defence teacher (Dennis Leary) - or which leave a nasty taste in the mouth - Bob is left engaged to the bottle blonde whom we guess he has beaten up on at least one occasion. Save for Joe's indignation at being told that he's not the beefcake he thought he was, and enjoyable cameos from Christopher Lloyd and Kathleen Turner, the satire remains tentative as well.

Gummo (18)

available to rent from Monday

IT'S A MOOT point whether Harmony Korine's directing debut is an exploitative white-trash freak show, as Korine - who wrote the screenplay for the controversial film Kids - seems to have no idea either. The self-consciously under-developed plot loosely follows the cat-killing adventures of the eponymous adolescent and his goofy sidekick.

Elsewhere in the town of Xenia, a trio of girls (Chloe Sevigny amongst them) are witnessed lavishing affection upon and then searching for their pet cat.

It's when Korine slips away from the narrative and the professional cast that he seems in his element, however. Large parts of the film are given over to passages of apparent documentary: a couple of weightlifting skinheads stage an impromptu punch-up for the camera; a kitchen-full of bare-chested rednecks conclude a boozy session by wrecking the furniture.

Much of this footage, shot on video as well as film, is a simple freak show, but it's no less hilarious for that. As to whether or not this voyeuristic peak serves any higher purpose, Korine is as mute as his cast of grotesques. There is the mildest of suggestions that Xenia's entropy may have been accelerated by a recent hurricane, but the tempest succeeds rather as a metaphor for the casual violence which pervades the film.

Gummo thrives on this random energy but is just about able to provide some moments of grace: look out for the boy wearing rabbit ears and the sublime bathtime dining scene towards the end.

Gattaca (15)

available to rent from Monday

AT LAST - some sci-fi with adult intentions. The parents of Vincent (Ethan Hawke) have made the mistake of leaving their son's future to chance when, sometime "in the not too distant future", to be born without genetically cooking the books is to be born "invalid". Determined to join the elite ranks of Gattaca, an astronaut training facility, Vincent borrows the identity of Jerome (Jude Law), a "valid" who has fallen on hard times. The murder of a course director brings Vincent under suspicion, however, as Alan Arkin attempts to track down the invalid who he believes is responsible for the crime.

Andrew Niccol's cautionary drama has the initial advantage of looking superb. Shot in melancholic sepia tones and with an expressionistic economy, Niccol's vision of the future demonstrates an elegance which his screenplay struggles to match. Vincent, particularly as played by the anodyne Hawke, is not so much a character as a walking refutation of genetic engineering.

It is left to a wheelchair-bound and mildly bilious Law - think of a 21st-century First World War casualty - to provide any colour in the film.

Even if there is less to this than meets the eye, Niccol's treatment of Hawke's involvement with the Aryan Uma Thurman and his battle to prove his innocence is refreshingly simple.

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