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WHEN WE WERE KINGS

Director: Leon Gast. Starring: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, James Brown, Norman Mailer (PG)

This enthralling, Oscar-winning documentary about the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman for the heavyweight championship of the world has been shot and assembled with restless vigour and a precise sense of narrative mechanics. Despite the frequent cutaways to interviews with the likes of Spike Lee and Norman Mailer, everything feels integrated to give the picture shape and pace. Details of Ali's background are sketched in quickly, and thereafter the picture relies mostly on vintage interviews with Ali himself to build characterisation.

Even now, his warmth and confidence are overwhelming, and it's interesting that a film concerned with such a feral sport should place such emphasis on the importance of verbal articulacy. Ali has a formidable rapid-fire wit, while, by contrast, the monosyllabic George Foreman fumbles hopelessly trying to concoct a pithy sound-bite. Mailer, who was dispatched to report on the Zaire showdown offers illuminating insights into the atmosphere surrounding the fight, but it's ultimately Ali's show, and his charisma leaves you reeling.

THE RELIC

Director: Peter Hyams. Starring: Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller (15)

The presence of producer Gale Hurd and effects genius Stan Winston among the credits for this grisly B-movie-style horror-cum-disaster movie tells you where The Relic is heading. There are strong echoes of two James Cameron films which Hurd and Winston have previously worked on together - Aliens and The Terminator - and while The Relic lacks the tension of those pictures, it has a pleasant undercurrent of black comedy. Penelope Ann Miller plays an evolutionary biologist at New York's Museum of Natural History, where a mysterious creature has been decapitating unsuspecting minor characters, much to the bewilderment of grizzled cop Tom Sizemore. Could it possibly be the work of a South American demon sprung straight from the bowels of Satan? Well, what do you think?

HIGH SCHOOL HIGH

Director: Hart Bochner. Starring: Jon Lovitz, Tia Carrere (15)

From some of the brains behind the Naked Gun films comes this protracted spoof on Dangerous Minds - not a promising prospect, admittedly, but one which is sustained with surprising skill, and has the good sense to wind down before the 90-minute mark. It's also refreshing to see someone other than the running-on-empty Leslie Nielsen given a chance to mug shamelessly to camera. In the role of lead buffoon is the endearing Jon Lovitz, who plays the new teacher on the block at a tough inner-city school. His mission, as with Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, is to give his wards something to live for and aspire to. Fortunately, the script is too busy conjuring up a relentless stream of gags to take its premise seriously and you can't help but be charmed by the sheer crude energy of the picture.

MICROCOSMOS

Director: Claude Nuridsany, Marie Perennou. Narration: Kristin Scott-Thomas (U)

A transfixing nature documentary which burrows into the world of insects, locating images of dry humour, grotesque cruelty and hypnotic beauty. From the burst of snail-pornography to the wicked precision of a spider gift-wrapping its catch, this is bizarre and original film-making, shot with wide-eyed fascination in lurid colours. But be sure not to wait for the video release - the sheer size of these images on a cinema screen is crucial to the film's power and poetry.

KILLER: A JOURNAL OF MURDER

Director: Tim Metcalfe. Starring: James Woods, Robert Sean Leonard (18)

The true story of the friendship between convicted killer Carl Panzram (James Woods) and prison guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard), which became a kind of business partnership when Panzram entrusted his personal diaries to Lesser in order to get them published. The film has a certain chilly dignity, thanks mostly to the sombre photography by Abel Ferrara's collaborator Ken Kelsch. But although Woods is as fiercely compelling as ever, he has limited psychological material to work with, and the picture soon becomes irredeemably itinerant.

DANGEROUS GROUND

Director: Darrell James Roodt. Starring: Ice Cube, Elizabeth Hurley (18)

A pompous thriller which offers a laugh a minute - most of them stemming from the limited acting abilities of Elizabeth Hurley. Following on from her role as a nihilistic English junkie in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Hurley stretches her range by playing a nihilistic South African junkie who teams up with Ice Cube, an African-American scouring South Africa for his brother. Ving Rhames is a hoot as a coked-up drug boss, but it's Hurley who steals the show - she's a blank-eyed, dimwitted heir to Pia Zadora's throne.

LUSH LIFE

Director: Michael Elias. Starring: Forest Whitaker, Jeff Goldblum (NC)

Some four months after its video release, Lush Life rather oddly gets a short big-screen stint at the National Film Theatre. Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker play a pair of charismatic jazz musicians reduced to bumming it around the circuit, taking in everything from weddings to jingles in order to make ends meet. While the film focuses on their effervescent friendship, it is witty and likeable, but a bid for additional gravity in the shape of a terminal illness puts a strain on your patience.

LA PASSIONE

Director: John B Hobbs. Starring: Paul Shane, Shirley Bassey (15)

An embarrassing indulgence conceived as a slice of fantasy-cum-autobiography by the singer-songwriter Chris Rea, this makes Give My Regards to Broad Street look like Battleship Potemkin. Joe is a young boy from the north of England who devotes his life to dreaming about owning a Ferrari. Eventually he becomes wealthy enough to buy one. So much for a plot. The rest of the film is merely a series of banal dream sequences and motor-racing excerpts.

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