Film Reviews: Hopkins gets even scarier than Lecter

Best of the rest
The Edge

(15) Lee Tamahori

The Ugly

(18) Scott Reynolds

Desperate Measures

(15) Barbet Schroeder

Le Maman et La Putain

(18) Jean Eustache

When it comes to travelling, Charles Morse is no Judith Chalmers. Having just survived a plane crash which has left him and two companions stranded in the grand but merciless Alaskan wilderness, he assesses the situation before calmly announcing "Most people lost in the woods die of shame." I'm sure that this tough old boot, who ends up as the hero of the new thriller , would be as dull as ditch water if he weren't played by Anthony Hopkins. It's not that Hopkins gives a particularly skilful performance, but rather that he succumbs to the sheer goofiness of the picture with winning aplomb. In the second half of the movie, where Morse casts off his sophisticated exterior and embarks on a foolhardy bear hunt with fellow survivor Bob (Alec Baldwin) Hopkins gets to do the kind of goggle-eyed routines that conjure memories of Audrey Rose or Magic. As Morse locates the savage within, Hopkins unlocks his inhibitions and finds an inner lunatic that would keep Hannibal Lecter away at night.

marks a dumbing-down for most of those involved. The director Lee Tamahori casts off the sobriety of his last film Mulholland Falls and sets about fashioning a rip-snorting boys' own adventure. The writer David Mamet allows himself to write some awful B-movie dialogue - lines like "We got a problem with bears round these parts" and "You're Charles Morse? The billionaire Charles Morse?" Arrive early on to warn yourself to disengage your brain. I imagine even Bart the Bear must have found the script's Iron John mentality and sub-Hemingway machismo laughable. Perhaps the only person for whom represents a significant step up is Alec Baldwin - not the world's sharpest person when it comes to choosing roles, but excellent here in the scene where he has a nervous breakdown as he ponders Bart's movements. "He's stalking us!" he rants, conjuring up the cherishable image of a grizzly bear loitering outside Baldwin's apartment and making obscene late-night phone calls.

Things get even weirder in The Ugly, a nasty and inventive horror film from New Zealand which follows the efforts of a psychologist (Rebecca Dobbs) to penetrate the mind of Simon (Paolo Rotondo), a vicious serial killer being held in a desolate neon-lit asylum. It will be clear to the most casual viewer that the first-time director Scott Reynolds has been heavily influenced by Seven and Peeping Tom, as well as the work of his countryman Peter Jackson, though there is more than enough style and originality here to suggest that he could be a startling new talent to watch.

Reynolds has taken some genuine risks in constructing The Ugly as a complex collage of past and present, nightmares and hallucinations, but the picture is edited with such crisp economy that it can make you gasp - there's one memorable shot where the young Simon disappears into his bedroom, and then in the same take the door opens again to reveal scene-of-crime officers emerging with evidence 15 years later. One of the most precarious balancing acts for a horror film-maker is knowing how much humour to measure out, and on this score too, Reynolds demonstrates impeccable judgement, using the hospital administrator, who is dressed like a 19th-century dandy, as the mouthpiece for the sort of camp rejoinders that you usually have to brave Australian soap operas to hear.

The madness continues in Desperate Measures, though this story of a cop (Andy Garcia) who turns to a homicidal maniac (Michael Keaton) to plead for a bone marrow transplant for his dying son isn't nearly ridiculous enough to be fun. That's a pity, since the director Barbet Schroeder has a knack for making disposable entertainment that is pleasurably tangy. Unlike Paul Verhoeven, another European director who has defected to Hollywood, Schroeder has clung on to what made him special in the first place - you can see the playfulness that unites his early comedy Maitresse, which starred Gerard Depardieu as a burglar who stumbles into the world of S&M, with his completely gaga Single White Female; being deliriously out to lunch and in the clouds is what he's best at.

But Desperate Measures feels grounded. There's still an appealing perversity behind the idea of transforming what could have been a soft-focus weepy into a trashy thriller, but only Michael Keaton has any fun with the material, giving good value for money as the psychopath who is so unhinged that even police dogs back off.

`La Maman et la Putain' reassessed: page 11