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THE LOST WORLD

Director: Steven Spielberg Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore (PG)

As with most sequels, The Lost World has already established a sturdy underpinning. Audiences are familiar with Jurassic Park, they know its little trademarks - a half-hour of calm before the storm as we languish in an earthly paradise; a couple of shots of still water being disturbed by the approaching earth-shaking stomp of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And Spielberg is very good at capitalising on our expectations. The thud of those T-Rex footsteps seems to be everywhere at first, in every sound effect, every rumble of thunder, even before we've laid eyes on a full-size dinosaur. That's a nice way of teasing us, and Spielberg clearly relishes such games.

He's also a remarkably restrained director. He knows not to give too much away too soon - a talent that was in evidence early in his career, in Jaws and Duel. So the opening scene, where a young girl holidaying with her parents is mauled by a group of tiny, over-enthusiastic compsognathi, doesn't reveal anything - the attack occurs off-screen. But it's enough to lure us into the movie.

Even the exposition scenes which fill the next 30 minutes aren't too dreary because we have the ever-appealing Jeff Goldblum to guide us through them in his bemused I'm-just-visiting-this-planet drawl. Goldblum reprises his role as Ian Malcolm from the first film, though he has better jokes and a daughter this time around. Richard Attenborough pops up briefly to try and explain some twaddle about Site B, a second location where dinosaurs were being bred for introduction into the main theme park.

Never mind that none of this was mentioned the first time around - it's all delivered in a gently reassuring tone, so we don't have to worry about logic or continuity. He reveals that Goldblum's girlfriend, a palaeontologist named Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), is already working out on Site B in a research expedition, and this persuades the reluctant hero to follow.

But once out there, Goldblum witnesses the hunting of much of the dinosaur colony by a ruthless team headed by Pete Postlethwaite. With the usual Michael Crichton brand of one-dimensional characterisation, this bunch of savages are the villains, while Goldblum and co are the good guys - the dinosaurs, doing nothing but protecting their young in the only way they can, are caught in the middle. As such, it's a rather lopsided battle, and the structure of the film appears to reflect this.

The first two acts work reasonably effectively, with the requisite amount of thrills being conjured up as the dinosaurs indiscriminately turn on anything in their sights. And there's a dizzy set-piece which may rank as one of the most inventive things that Spielberg has ever done, as Moore's trailer wobbles on the edge of a cliff, threatened by each nudge of an angry T-Rex. The way the situation is resolved makes you remember that, in his time, Spielberg has created some of the most awe-inspiring spectacles in modern cinema.

Then it all falls apart. A cumbersome mini-climax on Site B has a pack of velociraptors being defeated by Goldblum's dexterity with a few roof slates, and an impromptu gymnastics display from his daughter. After that, the ghost of Godzilla invades the proceedings, as it had always threatened to from the moment the project was conceived, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex runs amok in the suburban landscape which was once Spielberg's artistic milieu in the days of Close Encounters and ET.

By this point, all semblance of horror and suspense has been replaced by an insatiable appetite for destruction, and the restraint which so distinguishes the early parts of the film has vanished. To add insult to injury, the picture's only consistent element is its sentimentality about child/parent relationships, be the parent concerned man, woman or dinosaur. As a thriller, it's not a complete disaster, but Spielberg should learn to concentrate more on his method and less on his message.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

Director: Fernando Colomo Starring: Maria Barranco, Coque Malla (15)

An intermittently delightful comedy about a young Spanish student, Luis, who goes to stay with his aunt in Battersea and ends up being seduced by her. The neatness of the screenplay, which ensures that each of its characters ends the picture as part of a couple, nicely complements the monologues about Chaos Theory (from which the film takes its title). A good-natured little piece with an appealingly quirky sense of humour.

REMEMBER ME?

Director: Nick Hurran Starring: Robert Lindsay, Brenda Blethyn (PG)

Michael Frayn wrote this kinetic suburban farce, but while his tangy, intricate screenplay offers plenty of possibilities for exploiting the menace of its setting, this is never quite dark enough to do any substantial damage. Jamie (Robert Lindsay) used to be in love with Lorna (Imelda Staunton) - some 20 years ago. Now, out of the blue, he drives his Rolls Royce into the street where she resides in marital drudgery and asks for money, much to the chagrin of Lorna's husband Ian (Rik Mayall) and the amusement of their teenage offspring. What seems at first to be a simple case of a missing wallet soon turns out to involve major-league bankruptcy; not to mention assassination attempts, first by a pair of Russian hit-men lurking outside, and then by Jamie's vengeful ex-wife.

The film's main problem is that it's grotesquely overplayed. Farce should be garish but it must have its roots in reality, and while the initial scenes of Ian and Lorna's humdrum routine have a sad honesty about them, all this disappears with the arrival of Jamie and his ditsy blonde companion, whose constant repetition of the word "sorry" makes you wish it was her that the assassins were after. There are plenty of embarrassingly forced comical situations, with various people being caught in compromising situations in various bedrooms, but none of it raises the weakest of smiles. Only Rik Mayall impresses, playing the put-upon husband utterly straight and achieving greater comic effect through silence than he has during a career of shouting.

LADY AND THE TRAMP

Director: Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson (U)

Disney's 1955 romantic comedy is wheeled out again, presumably for the benefit of all those younger viewers excluded by The Lost World's "not for children of a sensitive disposition" warning. It's still a little charmer, with better songs (thanks to Peggy Lee), richer characterisation and fewer of the irritatingly self-reflexive gags which we've come to expect from more sophisticated but less enchanting Disney efforts like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You know the deal: eating spaghetti together by candlelight, and warding off the unwanted attentions of a pair of dastardly Siamese cats. Just lovely.

Ryan Gilbey

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