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Director: George Armitage Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd (15)

There's a disarming coolness to Grosse Pointe Blank, a sparkling comedy

co-written by, and starring, John Cusack - it has a fluid feel which can sometimes distract you from the surprisingly complex issues it explores. On the surface, it's a typical Hollywood theme: a man wakes up one morning tired of the career he has chosen, and starts questioning who he is, finally deciding to seek answers, and solutions, in the past.

But the film puts a sly twist on this formula. The man in question is Martin Blank (John Cusack), a ruthlessly efficient hit-man whose work simply doesn't inspire him anymore. A rival assassin, Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), is trying to enlist Blank to form part of a contract killers' union, but Blank wants a clean break. His despondency comes, quite by chance, in the same week that he receives an invitation to attend his 10-year high school reunion in the town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. As he's got a hit scheduled in that area on the same weekend, he decides to go, encouraged by the secretary (Joan Cusack) who looks out for his spiritual well-being, and the psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) who lives in fear of him.

The script is littered with crackling one-liners, but there's a strong sense of character and emotion here, and the scenes where Martin reconciles the past with the present - visiting the site of his old house, for instance, to find that it's a convenience store - manage to be both poignant and darkly funny. George Armitage, who made the similarly wicked Miami Blues, directs with a keen eye for the absurdities of the script, and extends its sensibility beyond dialogue - the soundtrack of 1980s pop is used to especially imaginative effect, particularly Nena's "99 Red Balloons", which always sounded like murder, and now provides the accompaniment to one.

The film finally arrives at the kind of predictable spiritual crossroads that Hollywood has proved adept at priming us for, though the fact that the final scenes marry emotional reconciliation and mass murder indicate that Grosse Pointe Blank has succeeded in straying a considerable way from the beaten track.


Director: Julio Medem Starring: Carmelo Gmez (18)

"I have a vast imagination," announces the divine and/or schizophrenic hero of Tierra. "Enough for several worlds." You could say the same of the director, Julio Medem, who has the ability to create magical, disquieting mysteries out of the most simple materials. Tierra is a fable, fanciful and abstract, and with a mystical theme which manifests itself in symbolism which could be dismissed as rudimentary if it weren't executed with Medem's customary audacity. A director tackling a story about a man who thinks he's an angel is on thin ice when it comes to depicting religious images like lost sheep or stray lightning-bolts. Or, in one scene, lost sheep struck by stray lightning-bolts (you can trust Medem to go the whole hog).

Tierra works because it is completely informed by the wide-eyed world- view of its hero, Angel (Gmez). The film begins with a voice-over from the heavenly half of Angel - the voice in his head, with whom he is in constant conversation. At first, we can't be sure whether Angel is who he claims to be, or just a few strings short of a harp. He has traded his wings, if he ever had any, for a job as a pest controller. When we meet him, he's heading out to fumigate a vineyard ridden with woodlice, and it's there that he falls in love with two women: Marl, a highly sexed 18-year-old who wants his body, and Angela, a married woman who fulfils a deeper need within him.

It sounds noncommittal to call Medem a Spanish David Lynch - any film- maker who dips a toe in surrealism risks such a comparison. But Medem shares that director's knack for pitching an image or a line of dialogue so squarely between absurdity and horror that you can never be sure how to react. It can be refreshing to feel lost in film in this way, to not know where your next emotion is coming from.


Director: Mel Smith Starring: Rowan Atkinson (PG)

It's disappointing that Rowan Atkinson should agree to expand upon his most reductive creation - the geeky, clumsy and sometimes downright malicious Mr Bean - rather than, say, Blackadder. But what is most surprising about this feature-film outing is that it feels so restrained. Give or take the odd contrived gag involving a bag of vomit (don't ask), this is muted stuff which never hits the giddy momentum that is required of any comedy of embarrassment. The closest it gets is a runaway sketch in which Bean manages to smear, repair and then completely destroy the original painting of Whistler's Mother (which he has mistakenly been sent to Los Angeles to introduce at its unveiling).

But elsewhere, it feels more like a TV sitcom than ever, with Bean coming to stay with an all-American family, before driving them to the point of complete breakdown. Mel Smith directs flatly, but Atkinson is an enchanting performer who holds your attention on his own. With his inkspot moles, a pair of nostrils like the barrels on a shotgun (which, when flared, transform his face into a weasel's snout) and a couple of eyebrows so autonomously expressive that they should have their own National Insurance numbers, he resembles nothing less grotesque than a Gerald Scarfe cartoon come to life.


Director: Paul Weiland Starring: Jean Reno (12)

Bland comedy about Jean Reno's attempts to secure a plot in an overcrowded cemetery for his dying wife, Mercedes Ruehl. Reno darts around the sunny Italian locations trying to prevent his neighbours from popping their clogs, but his hysteria is as wearisome as the sentimental overtones.


Director: Arnaud Desplechin Starring: Mathieu Amalric (15)

Covering much the same ground as last month's Portraits Chinois, but with greater style (not to mention length - it runs three hours), this explores the life and loves of a group of dithering friends pushing 30. Like the characters, the film lunges for profundity and misses, but its best moments are also its lightest and funniest.

Ryan Gilbey