Michael Douglas has turned in his best work stumbling blindly around cramped screenplays in which his characters find themselves stranded up existential dead-ends - a capacity for raging impotence best seen in Joel Schumacher's Falling Down. And who better to pile on inescapable woe than David Fincher? Sigourney Weaver's battle with the 8 ft stick insect never looked so futile as it did in the director's oppressive third instalment of the Alien series and Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt were able to do nothing to stop Kevin Spacey punishing a full complement of sinners in Fincher's Seven.
Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a ruthless tycoon haunted by the suicide of his father, and who's as neurotic as he is wealthy. On his 48th birthday, Douglas's younger brother (Sean Penn) persuades him to sign up to "the game", the obtuse point of which "is to discover the point". Within days of agreeing to his participation, Douglas finds that business deals go awry, vice traps are sprung and that his bank accounts have been emptied.
Leant allure by Fincher's chilly lighting and a clinically effective series of bluffs and double-bluffs, the film nevertheless fails to disguise the Tales of the Unexpected-calibre yarn that underpins it - there's even a sinister clown mannequin. The schadenfreude you experience watching Douglas's fall is tempered by his nastiness in the first place and the film's final twist betrays a cosiness you wouldn't have thought Fincher capable of. 2/5
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (15), Fox Pathe (available to rent now)
Sacrificing his Union Jack E-type Jaguar and bevy of "shagadelic" babes, Britain's top secret agent, Austin Powers (Mike Myers) follows his arch- enemy, Dr Evil, into cryogenic storage and is woken 30 years after swinging London's summer of love to find Dr Evil (Mike Myers too) on the rampage again. Worse still for the old adversaries, they're feeling a little dated: Austin's Nineties assistant, Vanessa Kensington (posh-u-like Liz Hurley) finds his advances neither cheeky nor enticing and Dr Evil is dismayed to find that the world's superpowers aren't trembling at his million-dollar ransom demands.
It's a pity Mike Myers couldn't have picked a less obvious target for this cheap and cheerful spoof - you needn't be an espionage expert to see that the adventures of James Bond and his super-spy spin-offs (The Man from UNCLE and The Avengers) were produced with self-parodying laughs as well as suspense in mind.
Aiming low throughout, Myers and director Jay Roach miss more often than not with a series of irritating cheap sight gags. Still, there are belly laughs to be had, here, not least from Myers' cheesy portrayal of Austin himself - think Countdown's Richard Madeley played by Leslie Phillips and Dr Evil's fractious relationship with his grumpy teenage son. 2/5Reuse content