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The Newton Boys (15)

Richard Linklater's fifth feature - a Western, of all things, and a departure from his trademark "day-in- the-life" format - never

made it to British screens following a poor showing at the US box office. Though by no means a disaster, it's a surprisingly flat and conventional effort. Linklater's only previous period film, Dazed and Confused, dealt with a milieu he knew well (high school in the mid-1970s); this time, he recreates 1920s Texas to tell the true story of the four Newton brothers, poor farm boys turned successful bank robbers. In the lead roles, Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio and Skeet Ulrich range from feeble to adequate; Julianna Marguiles fares poorly in a miscalculated romantic subplot, but Dwight Yoakam, as a timid safecracker, steals every scene he's in. Linklater sets an agreeably wistful, low-key tone and his unassuming wit shines through sporadically, but, for worryingly long stretches, the movie isn't much more than Young Guns 3.

Character (12)

Set in 1920s Rotterdam, Mike van Diem's good-looking but heavy-handed adaptation of a classic Dutch novel charts the lifelong antagonism between the evil town bailiff and his idealistic bastard son. Themes and twists are so instantly recognisable that any remotely alert viewer will have reached the finish line long before the film (which takes two bustling hours). This is the kind of billowy epic in which momentous events are scheduled for rainy nights and punctuated by thunderclaps.

Zero Effect (15)

The first feature by writer-director Jake Kasdan (the son of director Lawrence Kasdan) is a gratifyingly unpredictable comedy, eccentric enough to keep you watching even when the laughs start to dry up. Bill Pullman plays Daryl Zero, the greatest private eye in the world. Or at least that's what he calls himself - he also happens to be a paranoid speed freak and is hugely dependent on his understandably disgruntled associate (Ben Stiller). The plot involves a blackmail scheme and is somewhat laboured, but it's the offbeat tone and appealing performances that count. Liberated from his white-bread Everyman roles, Pullman proves himself a deft comic, and Stiller, even in the straight-guy role, is as wryly amusing as ever.