Cinema: The Real Blonde, with real grit

WOULD YOU go and see a film called The Real Blonde (15) starring Maxwell Caulfield (of The Colbys) and Elizabeth Berkley (of Showgirls)? Given the choice, I certainly wouldn't. Which would have been a shame, because Tom DiCillo's movie turns out to be infinitely better than it sounds. Instead of the soft-focus softcore suggested by the title, it's a nifty little satire on the superficiality of the entertainment industry.

But wait a minute. Caulfield and Berkley? Satire? Absolutely. DiCillo is gleefully aware of the naff cachet that the two actors bring to his film, and exploits it to exquisite effect. Berkley is best known for - OK, only known for - her nudie pole- dancing in one of the worst films ever made. So DiCillo has playfully cast her as an aspiring actress working as Madonna's body double. And Caulfield - that permanently quizzical, bouffanted bad boy of Dynasty's short-lived sister series - plays up to his similarly kitsch reputation. In a twist of casting that suggests he is an excellent sport, Caulfield is Bob, an actor trapped in the role of a permanently quizzical, bouffanted bad boy in a dreadful daytime soap called Passion Crest. It's Bob who is engaged in a princess-and-the- pea-type search for the peroxide-free figure of the title - an epic quest that sends him peering down Daryl Hannah's gusset (honest) and rummaging under the bedclothes with what other writers might refer to as a "bevy" of beautiful blondes.

Frighteningly, Caulfield's looks and acting style haven't changed a bit since his days of poolside bitch-fighting with Stephanie Beacham. And this adds extra complexity to DiCillo's careful exploration of shallow entertainments and superficial people.

But this would be pretty empty stuff if wasn't set against the plausible emotional problems of another pair of characters - a young couple working within this airheaded environment and struggling to resist its influences. As Joe and Mary, Matthew Modine and Catherine Keener are a welcome centre of sanity, much-needed in a film full of camp daftness and big comic turns - as well as Caulfield and Berkley, there's Steve Buscemi's obnoxious video director, Kathleen Turner's vinegary agent, Denis Leary's sleazy self-defence instructor and Christopher Lloyd's limp-wristed maitre d'. This is smart, superior amusement, well worth checking out.

Salut Cousin! (15) offers more traditional satire, reworking that moral fable about the country mouse who visits his metropolitan relation. In Merzak Allouache's French-language film, wide-eyed Algerian Alilo (Gad Elmaleh) arrives in Paris "on bizness", and stays with his cousin, Mokrane (Mess Hattou), a fervent Francophile who lives in a bohemian garret in the 18th. "He's an American writer," says Alilo's host, pointing out one of his fellow tenants. "He's here for inspiration." The expatriate has changed a lot since the two cousins last met. With a canary-yellow wardrobe, moptop and goatee, Mokrane has reinvented himself as a rapper called Mok.

Allouache favours comedy that is predictable but pleasant, and Alilo's bumpkin responses to urban Paris provide him with his principal seam of jokey material. So Alilo gets his hand trapped in the shutter of a Pigalle peepshow, and tries to feed a baguette to a goldfish. At the same time, Allouache exposes Mok's sophistications as prime bullshit. He's got a fake mobile phone, he wears shades indoors at night; he pretends that he comes from a broken, poverty-stricken family and that his sister is a prostitute, when in reality she drives a cab. This is sentimental character comedy, likeable, familiar and far from revolutionary. And although his film is set among the suburban housing projects used to grim effect in films like La Haine and Clubbed to Death, Allouache is decidedly dismissive about banlieue poverty.

Like the Boy Scouts and the Moonies, the Blues Brothers is a cult I'm glad I never got into. It's 18 years since the film was made, but star Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis - undeterred by the permanent indisposition of their original collaborators, John Belushi and Cab Calloway - have cobbled together a sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 (PG). To fill in for absent friends, they've drafted in John Goodman (heavier, but less hairy than his predecessor), Joe Morton (as Calloway's long-lost illegitimate son) and J Evan Bonifant (a jug-eared kid in a mobster suit). Not since Blake Edwards made those Pink Panther films after the death of Peter Sellers has cinema seemed more leaden, crude and opportunist. Apart from one scene in which Eric Clapton and BB King are forced to dive for cover during a stand-off between the Russian Mafia and a gang of white supremacists, watching it was enough to give anyone the blues.

Ever wanted to see Vincent D'Onofrio doing a wee? No, it's not very near the top of my wish-list, either. Anyone who goes to see Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Guy (18) will just have to grin and bear it. D'Onofrio - the hick who transmogrified into a 50-foot bug in Men in Black - stars as a dodgy Californian car salesman picked at random by an experimental film-maker (Hope Davis) to be the unwilling subject of her fly-on-the-wall documentary. We see the entire movie through her lens, and watch as he squirms, flirts, rages and performs for her. I suppose it's intended as one in the eye for the queen of feminist film critics, Laura Mulvey, and her theory that the cinema is always the expression of a maleficent male gaze. But that doesn't stop it from being deadly dull.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 11.

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