GI Jane (18)

First Independent (to rent from Monday)

On the face of it, the resourceful feminism that Ridley Scott exploited in Alien and made sexy in Thelma and Louise ought to have found a home in the tale of a high-flying female officer (Demi Moore), on whose success in an elite US Navy training programme the future of women in the military depends. And it trundles along inoffensively for the first 45 minutes, even if the camera occasionally slobbers over Moore doing press-ups However, it takes Anne Bancroft, as the wily senator only too aware of the PR cachet of Moore's progress, to keep the political angle, and the film, alive.

I'm not sure that slap-head Demi's quite the ball-breaking icon she thinks she is here, however. Inevitably, Moore's training officer, Viggo Mortensen, resents her presence, but when the screenplay engineers a pointless act of treachery on Bancroft's part, the film lapses into a tiresome one-woman, gung-ho battle against the world. It comes as no surprise that Moore gets a co-producer credit. 2/5

A Life Less Ordinary (15)

Polygram (available to rent now)

The holy trinity of British film-making in the 90s - Trainspotting's Danny Boyle, Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge - end up, of all places, in mid-West America for their third feature.

The uneven result has loser Ewan McGregor kidnapping Cameron Diaz, the spoilt daughter of nasty businessman Ian Holm, in a quirky metaphysical comedy drama.

The film's riskiest device seems to be its heavenly frame tale, by which we learn that a pair of angels, Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo, are for the (up on?) high jump unless they can get the kidnapper to tie the knot with his victim.

To say this comes across as hand-me-down Coen Brothers is by no means an insult. There's plenty of imagination here - not least the concluding animation sequence - and McGregor and Diaz make a sparky lead pair.

But the wide open spaces that apparently inspired Boyle seem to suffocate him. The camera found wider vistas in the yuppy flat of Shallow Grave.

As Diaz and McGregor flee the angels they believe to be bounty hunters, the trademark generic teasing and moments of ironic eloquence that come to each character jar, where they seemed to enrich Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. Having got away from Edinburgh, Boyle et al seem to come over all homesick. 3/5

Nil By Mouth (18)

20th Century Fox (available to rent now)

Lest we all believe, thanks to The Full Monty, that jumping up and down on a stage in your underwear is the lot of the working class in the nineties, the sight of Ray Winstone jumping up and down on Kathy Burke in his Y-fronts ought to be administered as a national antidote.

That Robert Carlyle and not Winstone, after the performance of a lifetime, walked off with the Best Actor Bafta summed up which image of contemporary Britain we find more palatable. The impassioned, occasionally amusing truthfulness of Gary Oldman's underclass portrait - the mother who drives her junky son to his dealer, the great-grandmother who flinches when Winstone raises his fists - has been well documented.

Worthy of less comment, it appears, has been Gary Oldman's stunning debut behind the camera and Ron Fortunato's photography. Filmed from odd angles, long distance through a scrum of bodies in a club or in such close-up you can't see the face for the clogged pores, Winstone's alcoholic abuser, Burke's numb victim and Charlie Creed-Miles's chancer are barely distinguishable from the grim flats and streets they inhabit.

Oldman's instinctive, compassionate direction is strikingly allied by the eery beauty Ron Fortunato fleetingly brings to the South London estate where the family live. If Oldman's blockbuster psycho parts financed this superb film, roll on Air Force Two. 5/5

Mike Higgins

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