TOMORROW NEVER DIES

(12) HHH

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Starring: Pierce Brosnan

The James Bond series is a unique cinematic phenomenon because it is effectively a law unto itself. There is a standard formula carved in stone, and any deviations from it (as there were in Moonraker, for instance) are bound to be unpopular with audiences who flock to the films knowing exactly what to expect. Their expectations aren't even in a generalised area - the Bond films have a regimented form which each successive episode must stick to. Tomorrow Never Dies has the advantage of Pierce Brosnan, who is as suave and charming as Sean Connery at his best. But Brosnan aside, the film is positively subservient in its adherence to the tried- and-tested formula. There is the pre-credits action sequence which climaxes with a burst of violent slapstick, the protracted girls-and-guns credit sequence, and the ceremonial unveiling of the villain and the love interest. Brosnan's slightly enigmatic air holds your interest, but it isn't long before the film degenerates into a series of badly-staged chases and shoot- outs.

The plot is one of the weakest of the series, focusing on the media mogul Elliot Carver, who is instigating large-scale tragedies in order to be the first to report on them. Aside from the fact that this scenario formed the centrepiece of the TV comedy series The Day Today, where it had a good deal more satirical bite, there is so little danger and risk involved that the film ends up denying its audience the basic pleasures that the series has become renowned for. "Words are the new weapons," Carver assures Bond at one point. "Satellites are the new artillery." Which is just another way of letting the audiences know that they won't be treated to a grotesque megalomaniac like the Bond villains of the past, but rather a snivelling little media boffin. It isn't Jonathan Pryce's fault - he does his best with some dim-witted lines and surprisingly little screen-time. But the character of Carver is just the most obvious area in which Tomorrow Never Dies is lacking.

Despite the film's faults, David Arnold's score, which layers industrialised sounds over traditional orchestration, can make some sequences seem more exciting than they actually are. And there's a crisp, though brief, comic performance from the droopy-eyed Vincent Schiavelli as a prissy assassin. He gives the picture a wonderful lift, and when he bites the bullet, you're left pining for him; he should have got his own movie.

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

(18) HHH

Director: Jim Gillespie

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt

Four teenagers cover up a hit-and-run accident by heaving the body into a river, but one year later find themselves troubled by anonymous notes and a stalker brandishing a hook. Did someone witness their gruesome exploits that night, or has their victim risen from the dead to haunt them? Kevin Williamson wrote this efficient horror movie before the success of his other film, Scream, and there's no denying that this is the less impressive work. Williamson clearly has an exhaustive and passionate love for the slasher movie genre, but I Know What You Did Last Summer has none of the wit and intelligence that made Scream stand out as a modern classic.

Perhaps that's down to the rather pedestrian direction of Jim Gillespie, who is no Wes Craven - should a man who thinks it's acceptable to cut from a tense chase to shots of a character doing research on her computer really be put in charge of a film whose intention is to scare you half to death? That said, the frights come fairly regularly, and though the picture neither haunts nor tickles you the way Scream did, it's diverting enough as mindless Saturday-night entertainment.

PERSONS UNKNOWN

(18) HH

Director: George Hickenlooper

Starring: Joe Mantegna

George Hickenlooper can be a startling and ingenious director - he made Hearts of Darkness, the documentary which was arguably a finer work than Apocalypse Now, the film whose making it was chronicling; and his civil war ghost story, The Killing Box, was tense and provocative. But though the characters involved in Persons Unknown - a security expert (Joe Mantegna) who falls in love with two thieving sisters (Kelly Preston and Naomi Watts) - are intriguingly mercurial, Hickenlooper himself cannot get a firm grasp on the trashy noir dynamics of the piece, and by the final 20 minutes, all credibility and sympathy has dissolved.

A FURTHER GESTURE

(15) HHH

Director: Robert Dornhelm

Starring: Stephen Rea

Stephen Rea is an IRA prisoner who escapes from jail and hotfoots it to New York in this challenging drama from Ronan Bennett, who also wrote the recent gangster thriller Face. Rea is his usual morose self, sparking to life with flashes of self-deprecating humour - effortlessly engaging while somehow never demanding sympathy. The film is over-ambitious, yet the confident direction of Robert Dornhelm helps it hang together.

Ryan Gilbey

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