Film Reviews: Robbery, royalty and raunchiness

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Palookaville (15), Fox Pathe (available to rent 2 March)

Uberto Pasolini, producer both of this and The Full Monty, seems to be building a career around light-hearted tales of desperate men resorting to desperate measures in order to salvage their crummy lives. Where, say, Ken Loach's Raining Stone', tilling similar ground, unearthed penury only slightly leavened by a grim wit, this amiable comedy of three small-town America losers carrying out armed robbery in the name of self-respect chances upon charm and whimsy throughout its meandering course.

Brow-beaten Sid (William Forsythe), wise-guy Russ (Vincent Gallo) and family man Jerry (Adam Trese) end up with all the dough they need when a botched jewellery heist winds up with the three of them robbing a bakery instead. The hapless trio dither over their next job - the local mini- market's security van - when they realize that Russ's meathead cop brother- in-law smells a rat. And that's about it really. The trio's shambolic attempt to plan and execute the upcoming robbery works unevenly as gentle Tarantino parody and the various romantic sub-plots creak, but somehow Palookaville wins you over. Forsythe, Trese and, in particular, Gallo make the most of dialogue which isn't half as snappy as it thinks it is. Alan Taylor flatters everyone involved with some laconically paced direction. 3/5

Mrs Brown (PG), Buena Vista (available to rent 3 March)

It's no real surprise that BBC Films were proved right in giving this heart-warming feature a proper theatrical release: "Bodyguard- with-kilts" is a great pitch to prise open American wallets. Otherwise the finished product thankfully bears little resemblance to the Costner-Houston prototype.

In his immensely appealing rendering of the relationship between the bereaved Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her personal servant-cum-royal bouncer, John Brown (Billy Connolly), director John Madden wisely avoids the "did they or didn't they?" factor -- for reasons of dramatic inegrity, you'd like to think, rather than monarchical deference. Below stairs at Balmoral, and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, they're as suspicious about the gillie's long horse-rides with the Queen as either Victoria's personal secretary (Geoffrey Palmer at his lugubrious best) or Prime Minister Disraeli (a superbly vulpine, though not unsympathetic, Anthony Sher). But it's the universal sense of betrayal by one of your own that Madden sets his sights on. The film's keen eye for the conflict between class- bound duty and "passionate friendship" is brought wonderfully into focus by Connolly's full-blooded Brown and Dench's emotionally fragile "Mrs Brown", and it's these two that keep you watching an old-fashioned love story. 4/5

The Full Monty (15), 20th Century Fox (available to buy 2 March)

Criticizing a film that seems to have been the British public's automatic choice for a night out at the cinema since its release last summer is a bit like begrudging the Queen Mother a new hip.

By rights, this brightly-told but slender film of six out-of-work men turning to stripping to earn a crust didn't really deserve a place on the small screen - it's not even as if we get to see whether all that extra space is needed to accommodate the talents that Robert Carlyle and the boys reveal. The film's ultimate coyness reflects the rosy view director Peter Cattaneo provides of working-class male unemployment. Under pressure from their women folk who want to get them off the dole - and even more women who simply want to get `em off - the six men tentatively pursue the cheerful logic that to keep their dignity they're going to have to lose their pants. Baldly stated, this sounds wilfully simplistic but the brio with which the leads get stuck into their parts and the warm glow Cattaneo casts prove infectious. 4/5

Mike Higgins

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