THE JACKAL

(18) H

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Starring: Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier

Glossy retread of The Day of the Jackal with Bruce Willis as the killer for hire, paid $70m by the Russian Mafia to bump off the head of the FBI. Shiny, sprawling and risibly scripted, the movie offers viewers the twin pleasures of Willis's Jackal in a series of fright wigs, and Richard Gere as Declan Mulqueen, the charming IRA terrorist released from prison to identify him.

In fact, Gere's Irish isn't half bad, but skipping between Moscow, Helsinki, London and America, director Michael Caton-Jones squanders the suspense of the original narrative while offering only a slurry of post-cold-war action cliches in return. Trying his best to be impassive, Willis can't resist the old smirk (old habits Die Hard), and Sidney Poitier's FBI deputy offers the veteran's familiar brand of creaky dignity. So it's left to Diane Venora to steal the show as a tough Russian intelligence operative - asked what her first name is by a flirtatious Mulqueen, the military maid scornfully replies "Major".

PICTURE PERFECT

(PG) HH

Director: Glenn Gordon Caron

Starring: Jennifer Aniston

Wildly contrived, sticky sweet and featuring Kevin Bacon as a wolfish sex object (err, I think NOT), Glenn Gordon Caron's Picture Perfect has its problems, but scrapes by on the charms of star Jennifer Aniston. The big-haired one here plays an unhappily single twentysomething with big career ambitions. Only thing is, her company prefers its employees married. Enter Nick, whose chance appearance with Aniston in a friend's wedding snaps makes him ideal to masquerade as her fake fiance, leading to the inevitable misunderstandings and life lessons. A light, bright and oh, all right, hopelessly schmaltzy entertainment.

KISSED

(18) HHH

Director: Lynne Stopkewich

Starring: Molly Parker

As a young girl, Sandra Larson (Molly Parker) likes to play with dead animals, and as a student she studies embalming - so it's little surprise when she graduates to full-blown necrophilia with a succession of cadavers at the funeral parlour where she works. Set in the 1970s, Lynne Stopkewich's film is as leached of sensationalism as one of Sandra's corpses, but certainly far from dead boring. Sure, sex and death are on the slab, but Stopkewich's delicate dissection of moribund desire is more metaphysical love story than visceral horror. "It's like staring at the sun without going blind," says Sandra of her secret passion, and, at her moments of existential ecstasy, Stopkewich discreetly floods the screen with blinding white light.

Indeed, so cool and calm is Kissed, that the film would verge on anaemia if it weren't for the rich seam of mordant humour which runs through it. "I don't fuck everything that's dead," snaps Sandra to one of her boyfriend's interminable enquiries, while her mortician mentor is a sublimely sinister comic creation. Shot through with a wan melancholy, the film subtly captures the isolation of a woman who only really feels alive when cuddling up to a corpse.

THE WINTER GUEST

(15) HH

Director: Alan Rickman

Starring: Emma Thompson

Sincere and admirably unsentimental, this flawed study of life and death makes chilly viewing at this time of year. Set in a Scottish town on a day so cold that the sea has frozen over, The Winter Guest stars Phyllida Law as an old woman determined to chip away at the frozen grief of her widowed daughter, Emma Thompson. Elsewhere, a pair of old ladies rally for their latest funeral outing, Thompson's teenage son hesitantly approaches sex with a young admirer, and a pair of schoolboys find an unorthodox use for Deep Heat.

Adapted from a stage play, Alan Rickman's beautifully photo-graphed directorial debut betrays its origins with an episodic structure and theatrical dialogue. While the acting is uniformly fine, the film's loose vignettes finally fail to cohere into a profound whole.

THE END OF VIOLENCE

(15) HHH

Director: Wim Wenders

Starring: Andie MacDowell, Bill Pullman, Gabriel Byrne

Wim Wenders is back on form with this stylish and intelligent techno- noir about a Nasa plot to "end violence as we know it" through mass surveillance. Gabriel Byrne is a scientist who sees what looks like an assassination in progress. What he partially captures on camera is, in fact, kidnap victim Bill Pullman, a producer of Hollywood action movies, who has been abducted by two hired killers. Moments later the two captors are gunned down and Pullman escapes.

Part LA mystery, part meditation on the desensitised brutality of cinema, Wenders film has many problems, but it's worth watching alone for the way in which Wenders frames LA as the ultimate millennial dystopia. His city is a hi-tech network thrumming with paranoia, where the rich can cushion themselves from the outside world, but, in doing, so forget how to live.

Liese Spencer

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