Director: David Cronenberg. Starring: James Spader (18)
This cool, clinical and ultimately disturbing adaptation of JG Ballard's novel is preceded by a reputation which does it a severe disservice. The strength of Cronenberg's interpretation is surely the restraint which he exercises towards a story that is booby-trapped with opportunities for excess and sensationalism. James (James Spader) and Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) are a married couple who sleep with other people then return to each other to compare notes. Their lives become even more bizarre and dislocated after James is involved in a car-crash, and befriends Helen (Holly Hunter), the widow of the man killed in the accident. Through Helen, he is introduced to Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a crash enthusiast who organises reconstructions of famous motor accidents. Gradually, James and Catherine are drawn into Vaughan's world, where the division between sex and destruction, flesh and metal, is increasingly blurred.
As usual, Cronenberg works in a very taut, precise style, his camera subtly homing in on apparently innocent details which suddenly become loaded with menace. The most impressive element of Cronenberg's approach is his unfaltering commitment to tone, from the chilly, zombie-like performances which he has elicited from his cast, to the memorable use of Howard Shore's brilliant score. Not to mention the strain of mischievous humour - for all its grim meditations on the nature of pain and desire, there are enough invitations to laughter to determine this director's refreshing lack of indulgence. CON AIR
Director: Simon West. Starring: Nicolas Cage (15)
There may be the requisite amount of explosions, chases and brutality which characterise any film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, but there's also a pleasant taste of absurdity in the screenplay for this loud and nasty thriller. The plot itself may be negligible - a gang of psychotic convicts being transported to a new prison hijack their plane - but it's the details which make the film so enjoyable. Here is a film where one of the heroes, US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack), is a Dostoevsky- quoting intellectual with an arsenal of synonyms rather than weapons, while the bad guys - John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi - take as much pleasure in mind-games as murder. Nicolas Cage as the picture's other hero may epitomise the tone of the film - speaking in a sardonic drawl, he would be unintelligible if his tongue were pushed any further into his cheek. THE FIFTH ELEMENT
Director: Luc Besson. Starring: Bruce Willis (PG)
Luc Besson began his career with a sci-fi movie - Le Dernier Combat - and has used elements of the genre in his work ever since. But with The Fifth Element, he shows less assurance than ever at constructing a convincing futuristic universe, and most of the film, from its slim plot - the usual quest to prevent evil engulfing the universe - to the look of 23rd-century New York, feels deeply derivative.
There are some spicy delights in Gaultier's costumes, and the only comedy which really works comes from a characteristically outlandish Gary Oldman. But at every opportunity for spectacle and excitement, the film disappoints.
Director: Aki Kaurismaki. (PG) (subtitles)
The dry but warm wit of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki is in glorious evidence in this charming tale of a husband and wife who both lose their jobs and face severe depression before finally hitting on an idea for success. Not the most promising subject matter for a comedy, admittedly, but shot through with optimism and generosity.
ALIVE AND KICKING
Director: Nancy Meckler. Starring: Jason Flemyng (15)
Tonio (Jason Flemyng) is a gay, HIV-positive dancer whose plans to opt out of anything approaching a love life are thwarted by the determination of Jack (Antony Sher), a man he glimpses at the funeral of a mutual friend. Mining a similar theme to the more ingratiating Jeffrey - how to cope with life and especially love when you live in the shadow of Aids - this is a far more rigorous exploration of emotional chaos, thanks to Jason Flemyng's immense vitality.
MEN, WOMEN: A USER'S MANUAL
Director: Claude Lelouch. (subtitles) (12)
Claude Lelouch takes the same simple-minded philosophising which has made his films so popular as would-be commentaries on the relationship between the genders, and invests it in the facile tale of two men whose lives become entangled when a vengeful female doctor takes her revenge on one of them. The saving grace is Fabrice Luchini, the weasel-like comic actor who brightened Le Colonel Chabert.
Director: Michael Ray Rhodes. Starring: Moira Kelly (15)
The life of human rights activist Dorothy Day (Kelly), who struggled to eradicate poverty in America in the 1920s and 1930s, is an uplifting story of triumph and generosity, but here it has been turned into a banal issue-of-the-week movie with the drab skid-row locations offering more colour than the underwritten characters. Martin Sheen's flamboyant attempt at a French accent provides the closest thing to pleasure. THE INFORMER
Director: John Ford. Starring: Victor McLaglen (PG)
John Ford's 1935 drama about an Irish peasant, Gypo Nolan (McLaglen), who turns informer on a friend during the 1922 Irish Civil War in order to collect a reward, is atmospheric and sometimes oppressive but its overwrought direction detracts from what little emotional credibility it has. McLaglen remains impressive as the hulking, misguided oaf, and won an Oscar for his trouble.
ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH
Director: Albert Pyun. Starring: Christopher Lambert (18)
This murky horror film is essentially one long and very tedious chase, as a group of 21st-century cops attempt to catch a psychotic escapee from a mental institution. Most of the movie takes place in tunnels and air- vents, like Aliens, but with none of the style or pacing needed to come close to that film's sense of claustrophobia. Devoid of plot, characterisation and suspense, this is an entirely forgettable failure in all respects.