NEW FILMS

LOST IN SPACE

(PG) HHH

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Starring: William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Matt LeBlanc,

Mimi Rogers

In 2058, environmental breakdown has conspired to place the planet in the cosmic coconut shy, but scientist Dr John Robinson (William Hurt) has formulated a nifty escape plan, proposing that mankind ups stumps to Alpha Prime. Robinson has designed the Hypergate, which will enable people to commute between the two planets instantaneously. First, he and his family must cancel the papers, put the lights on "timer" and saddle up for the full 10-year trek to Alpha Prime in order to install the gate. However, a stowaway terrorist (Gary Oldman) sabotages the expedition and sends the Robinsons way off course.

The real reason for stranding the Robinsons among the stars becomes clear before they have even left the ground. John and his son, Will (Jack Johnson), have a communication problem. When Will and his vampy sister, Penny (Lacey Chabert), are alone, they swap tales of being forgotten by Dad. Only the eldest sibling, Judy (Heather Graham), seems unperturbed by her father's deficiencies, though she has other problems to contend with, such as fighting off the advances of the spaceship's pilot, Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc).

Lost in Space is an expensive version of the eponymous cult 1960s television series, but the film-makers have remained faithful to the original tone. And the movie looks terrific. The production designer, Norman Garwood, has adhered to a plush consistency of texture. Every surface, from door panel to hull, is alluringly spongy; tabletops seem soft enough to sink your fingers into. Rubber, and rubber-effect, is very big: the plates of body armour look like they would protect you from sexually transmitted diseases but not much else; they are almost as alive as the people inside them, or, in the case of William Hurt, more so.

It is a nice gag, too, that a film which is about a man struggling to be tactile with his own children should have sets and costumes that you ache to reach out and squeeze.

PSYCHO

(15) HHHH

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles

I envy anyone who will get their first taste of Psycho this week, when it begins a revival in a new print. Imagine not being fluent in Hitchcock's language of tricks and betrayals and booby-traps. Imagine not knowing whether Janet Leigh will flee with the loot, or escape that menacing traffic cop, or whether it will matter. Imagine seeing the Bates Motel for the very first time. Even better, imagine hearing that name - "Norman Bates" - and it not meaning anything at all: not yet.

Of course, the wonder of Psycho is that you do not really have to imagine - it is all there for you, each time you hear composer Bernard Herrmann's jabbing, stabbing strings and catch your breath in anticipation of what they promise.

MONK DAWSON

(18) H

Director: Tom Waller

Starring: John Michie, Ben Taylor, Paula Hamilton

You can just about discern the coherent drama and honourable intentions hiding within Monk Dawson. But far better to enjoy the film for the hotch- potch of melodrama and sensationalism that it is, rather than the searing social parable it longs to be.

Eddie is a sensitive Catholic priest who finds temptation close at hand in his parish - Cheyne Walk, SW3. He eventually succumbs, loses his faith, becomes a journalist, and takes to the party circuit, where he offers to conduct a black mass over the body of a naked virgin. Despite people flinging themselves at him the moment

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his dog-collar is off, poor Eddie never lets a smile disturb his lips - this hedonism lark is not for him.

The conflict of faith and fallibility has been the basis for pertinent character studies before, from I Confess to Lamb, but Monk Dawson's director, Tom Waller, and writer, James Magraine, let too many other ambitions clutter the film, so that everything feels glib. These flaws are crystallised in a party scene which cuts crassly between a girl fatally imbibing drugs, Eddie having sex on a kitchen table, and the celebrations of election night, 1979. The film-makers should waste no time hurrying to confessional - absolution is going to take more than a few Hail Marys.

DR DOLITTLE

(PG) HH

Director: Betty Thomas

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Oliver Platt, Ossie Davis

If Eddie Murphy had taken the role of Dr Dolittle at the start of his career, the prospect of him talking to the animals would have been enough to clear petting zoos in the toughest neighbourhoods. Here is an actor whose career was built on the record-breaking number of profanities he could squeeze into any given sentence. The thought of Murphy functioning within the restrictions of a PG certificate may not be a promising one, but in the snappy new film version of Dr Dolittle, he shows that his talents are more pliable than they might first have appeared.

Betty Thomas is a director with a deft comic touch, and she wisely neglects to milk the story's whimsical undertones, and instead wastes no time dishing up what you have come to see: a suicidal tiger, a sozzled monkey, and a pigeon which hopes one day to be mistaken for a bluejay. I don't know how it compares with the London stage revival, but if it is butt- jokes and flatulent rodents you demand, then you don't need me to tell you that the Philip Schofield model probably will not meet your requirements.

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