America, can we have your votes, please?

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For Those unfamiliar with the crudely animated characters from MTV, please allow me to introduce Beavis and Butt-Head, a brace of sniggering, sub-moronic teenage American virgins, who, when not flunking out of school or causing ptomaine poisoning at their local burger joint, spend every moment of what passes for waking life on their duffs watching rock videos on TV and saying either "This sucks!" or "Cool!" They are, in short, embryonic film critics, and as a mark of respect to their first full-screen adventure - see below - I shall indicate with a system of simple B&B- inspired abbreviations which films are distinguished (C), which are undistinguished (S), which are provocative if flawed (C/S) and which are profoundly dismaying save for certain redemptive elements (S/C). Here goes.

Though they'd be baffled by the funny way people were talking, the boys would certainly think Bertrand Blier's Mon Homme (18) was cool, because you get to see a lot of naked chicks. Others might have their misgivings. Among its female characters: a prostitute who loves her work with deep and unquestioning passion; a housewife who's persuaded, within seconds, to turn a cheap trick; a lonely, middle-aged woman who hangs around jails so as to pounce on released prisoners ... You might say that it's a bit short on what they used to call positive role models.

There's more to the film than misogynist teasings, though, and though it may raise liberal hackles sequence by sequence, it's as hard to pin down the exact nature of Blier's quirks and grudges and obsessions as it is to work out the self- destructive motives of his male lead, the homme of the title, Jeannot (Gerard Lanvin). When we first encounter Jeannot, he's the eternal victim, afflicted by every woe this side of leprosy: homeless, bleeding, filthy, starved. He's rescued by Marie (Anouk Grinberg), a happy, not to say ecstatic hooker with a heart of platinum, who brings him home, feeds him veal and red wine, then offers him the free use of her expensive privates.

Rather than expressing his gratitude, Jeannot immediately waxes finicky, brutal and domineering. He takes her roughly from behind, and she, bien sur, loves every vile-smelling moment of it; the camera stays close in on her face in a long, uninterrupted take as she soars towards orgasm. (This sequence may have been the one which bagged Grinberg the Best Actress prize at Berlin). Never having known such carnal rapture - uh-huh, right - Marie recruits Jeannot to be her pimp, and with bewildering rapidity (the film has an intricate time structure) he is transfomed into a smoothly besuited malcontent who passes his days in recruiting new women into the oldest trade.

This being Blier territory, events take a sour and vicious turn. Jeannot is beaten by the vice squad and jailed, Marie makes an impoverished marriage before returning to the streets, and the ending is doleful. Jeannot, stunned and shambling, appears to apologise to womankind on behalf of the film as well as himself. Quite what Blier thinks he's driving at is unclear, though he's a stylish driver - the dialogue here has his usual eccentric lyricism and his compositions can be discordantly fine. One suspects that if you accused him of making a dirty movie with pretentions, he'd probably take it as a compliment. Verdict: C/S

Bernard Rose's version of Anna Karenina (15) has already received a number of harsh notices, and not without reason. It's a cold, flat Euro-pudding; the affair between Anna (Sophie Marceau) and Vronsky (Sean Bean) is unconvincing; the dialogue tinkles with such lines as "Alyosha, Darling, you hardly have the moral high ground". Not precisely Tolstoy's idiom, if memory serves. It has its moments, however, and most of them belong to Alfred Molina, sincere and diffident in the role of Levin, the authorial surrogate who is - no? - the most interesting character in the novel. There is a sequence in which Levin discovers the value of manual labour by using a scythe, and Rose makes a grand, admirably unselfconscious feast of the sight of a rich man and his peasants tending their soil in unison. It makes all the adultery seem tiresome. Verdict: S/C.

Beavis And Butt-Head Do America (12), which contains a number of lewd interpretations of the verb "to do", is set in motion by the theft of B&B's beloved TV set - meaning, alas, that the funniest part of their usual act, the running commentaries on dreadful rock bands, is not part of the menu here. Setting off in quest of the appliance, B&B are launched into a transcontinental odyssey involving arms dealers, bacteriological warfare and Chelsea Clinton, and remain oblivious to it all, so squarely focussed are their few usable brain cells on hitting each other, watching a donkey defecate or nursing the possiblity that they might finally "score", ie have sex. Somewhere behind all the idiocy lurks the shrewd satirical wit and refreshing nihilism of their creator, Mike Judge; which is to say that this movie is pretty cool, except for the parts which suck: thus: C/S.

Were I a sociologist, I would already be two-thirds of my way into a searching thesis about the recent slew of Hollywood comedies depicting neglectful, workaholic fathers who go through an adventure which teaches them some profound truths about life and permits them to bond with their disagreeable offspring. (B&B Do America would be the counter-instance). Since I'm not, I'll just damn the latest of the genre, Jungle 2 Jungle (PG), with a couple of ill-considered phrases. Tim Allen of Home Improvements is the pater, a Wall Street dealer who, on a journey to the wilds of South America in search of a divorce from his long-estranged wife (JoBeth Williams), discovers that he has a 13-year-old son called Mimi-Suku (Sam Huntington, strikingly unobnoxious), innocent of B&B and other urban phenomena but skilled in archery and spider training. Father takes wild son back to New York with predictably anodyne consequences. I fear that once again, the best joke involves cruelty to cats. Verdict: S.

Stuart Gordon's Space Truckers (12) elaborates on a hint dropped a couple of decades ago in John Carpenter's deathless sci-fi comedy Dark Star, whose end credits featured a country and western song about a lonesome cosmonaut. Why not borrow the old story-line about a tough truck driver carrying an illegal load, send it off into the far reaches of the solar system and see what happens? Well, now we know why not. The result is a weird and cheesy mess, even if it would be a starchy soul indeed who would not giggle like a Butt-Head at one or two of the gags. Dennis Hopper plays the astro-redneck, who, after a labour dispute involving a cargo of square hogs and the unsightly death by vacuum of his boss (played by George Wendt, best known as Norm from Cheers), unwittingly accepts the task of transporting a deadly invasion force - robots capable of reducing flesh to polychromatic bubblegum - to Earth. Somewhere around the asteroid belt, enter a pirate ship captained by a bionic ruin of a man (Charles Dance), whose plans to ravish Hopper's fiancee are thwarted by his mechanised geni- tals, which simply won't rev up. Virtue triumphs. Verdict: S/C.

"Did these guys go to college or something?" Butt-Head has been heard to sneer when some particularly artsy promo pops up on screen. Love and Other Catastrophes (15) is a micro-budget Australian film all about a bunch of chicks and guys who go to college or something, made by a bunch of chicks and guys who had barely graduated when they made it: the director, Emma-Kate Croghan, was just 23. Such plot as there is - a few amorous tangles, an overdue library bill, an unfinished thesis on Doris Day - unfolds in the course of a single day on campus, and ends with the mandatory party and woozy aftermath. It's the sort of well-intentioned, mildly comic meandering that people tend to call, and have called "likeable". The boys and I felt that the jokes about the auteur theory were a shade obvious. Verdict: somewhere betwen C/S and S/C. Anyway, that's quite enough of the new grading system. Abbreviations suck.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 14.

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