THE CRITICS: FILMFNasty, brutish, not short enough

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A single hand-grenade lobbed into the preview screening of Kids (18) could take out the entire top layer of the nation's cultural hierarchy: it's not every day you see Germaine Greer rubbing shoulders with Steve Wright. In the sense that this is now felt to be a film about which everyone needs to have an opinion, Kids's battle is already won. So long as the sandstorm of moral outrage continues to whirl around 53-year-old photographer Larry Clark's debut feature, perhaps no one will notice just how boring the film itself is.

There are many grounds on which to take issue with Kids - its implicit racism, its prehistorically patronising attitude to its female characters, its lack of any kind of story; that the film fails so absolutely on its own terms is only the most surprising thing about it. You'd think that 24 hours in the life of two delinquent New York teenagers could at least muster the odd moment of excitement, but as a celebration of the reckless pleasures of adolescence, Kids turns out to have all the headlong momentum of a ride on a motorised lawnmower. Those in search of the heady scent of school-age eroticism should stick with Home and Away.

Even accepting that any teenage girl would be stupid enough to want to have sex with Leo Fitzpatrick's terminally gross Telly (and lapses of judgement in such areas are not completely unknown), the depiction of his seductees as hapless prey to his adenoidal wiles is profoundly insulting. It's no coincidence that one of Kids's few real brushes with lyricism comes in the scenes - strongly reminiscent of Taxi Driver, which was in turn influenced by Clark's still photographs of the Sixties and Seventies - in which doe-eyed Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) scours the streets of the city in search of the uncaring brute who has rendered her HIV positive.

Clark seems to get his biggest kick out of the idea of victimhood. This tendency is most glaringly apparent in Kids's attitude to its non-white characters. The defiant black machismo of rap is portrayed as the cultural root of Telly's penile dementia, but - as if in atonement for this show of strength - the few black faces who get to open their mouths are there to be kicked, spat upon and sexually degraded. The real alarm at the heart of this film is the same one that caused Ed Sullivan to ban Elvis from the waist down: the fear that white middle-class American teenagers will somehow be rendered unrecognisable by the influence of black youth culture.

The truly bizarre thing about Kids is that for all Clark's determination to prove himself a friend of the young folk - extending from the buying of "father and son" skateboards for himself and his nine-year-old boy to the hiring of 19-year-old puppet screenwriter Harmony Korine - the dominant impression Kids leaves you with is not of concern and affection for its subjects, but of hatred. Why else would the film's few remotely interesting and human presences (the legless beggar on the subway, Telly's mother with baby at the nip, the cab-driver listening to jazz) all be adults? It's almost as if this is Clark's revenge on a new generation for being younger and sexier than he is.

There is something strange and disturbing about the film's final tableau of peaceful post-party slumber: the artfully draped adolescents actually look like they're dead. Bearing in mind the patent insincerity of Kids's safe-sex tub-thumping, it is an uncomfortable possibility that this might just be the way Clark wants them. In any case, the censor who cut a minute out of this film threw away the wrong bit.

Blue in the Face (15), Paul Auster and Wayne Wang's delightful companion piece to their Brooklyn cigar-store rhapsody Smoke, is just the thing to restore faith in human nature. This film might have been dashed off in a week at the conclusion of an already tight shooting schedule, but it's no fag-end. Although the set-up of improvised celebrity cameos tied together with musical interludes and flashes of local colour smacks of self-indulgence, the finished product is coherent and affecting. It's like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing rewritten from Danny Aiello's point of view and with a big party at the end instead of a riot.

Harvey Keitel's irresistibly benevolent tobacconist, Auggie Wren, is again at the centre of things. This time he is not so much the narrative fulcrum as a pole of attraction; drawing to him a series of improbably successful big-name character turns. First up is Lou Reed, wearing Kevin Keegan's old hair. His desiccated meditations - for example on why he finds Sweden scarier than Brooklyn ("It's kind of empty, everyone's drunk, everything works ... you turn on the TV and there's an ear operation") - testify to a rare and unexpected gift for comedy. Jim Jarmusch shows the mercifully absent Quentin Tarantino how a director's cameo should be done, and the perennially underrated Michael J Fox triumphs as a crazy bearded man in cut-off denim shorts.

Blue in the Face's fragmented structure suits its underlying theme perfectly. This film's basic point - that a sense of community is probably on balance quite a good thing - might not sound like a revelation, but after Kids it feels like one. David Byrne's soundtrack overdoes the gleeful multi- culturalism a bit, but the man who spends his time removing plastic bags from trees is a star ("a plastic bag in a tree ... it's a flag of chaos") and Roseanne's kiss with Harvey Keitel is the week's most sexually charged cinematic encounter by a comfortable margin.

Bridget Fonda is not a name traditionally associated with acting excellence, but she puts on a pretty good show as the light-fingered heroine of Clare Peploe's Rough Magic (12). Fonda's feisty Fifties magician is a surprisingly effective gene-splice of Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, and though this picaresque saga of uranium barons and Mexican witches will be too dippy for many people's taste, there are some great things in it; not least a Jack Russell wearing a sombrero and a man being turned into a sausage.

Adapted from Chet Raymo's amusingly titled novel The Dork of Cork, the not-so-amusingly titled Frankie Starlight (no cert) is the everyday story of the dwarf son of a beautiful Frenchwoman who is impregnated on a ship full of American soldiers and then builds a new life for herself as a Sinead O'Connor look-alike. Her boy grows up in a small Irish village to become a writer and pen lines of the calibre of "the moon is an eyelash of radiance". That all this is actually not quite as painful as it sounds is largely down to an impressive cast, whose trio of stars (Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud, Matt Dillon) are outshone by the miraculously un-nauseating 13-year-old newcomer Alan Pentony.

To end with, one of the great enduring mysteries of the cinema. How does Woody Harrelson continue to get work? Money Train (18) finds our mullet- headed hero renewing White Men Can't Jump's hopelessly unequal rivalry with the impeccable Wesley Snipes. The story of this absurd Lethal Weapon- meets-Speed-meets-The Taking of Pelham 123-type New York City transit cop foster-brother adventure is nothing to write home about, but Robert Blake's hilariously hard-boiled police chief has some unforgettable dialogue: "Take a bite out of me - you'll be licking your asshole for a month to get the taste out of your mouth."

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