A lover you can't refuse

OTHER NEW RELEASES

Sheila Johnston
Wednesday 17 May 1995 23:02
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Kiss-kiss, bang-bang: the best - and the worst - of the movies propose, as Pauline Kael once remarked, nothing more nor less than these essential things in life. In Don Juan De Marco (15), Johnny Depp plays a young man convinced that he is the world's greatest lover (only in a shameless fantasy like this would it be possible, in a contemporary film, for a man cheerfully to admit to having 1,502 sexual partners without a shadow of fear or guilt). Marlon Brando is the psychiatrist assigned to cure him of his delusions.

In these times of political correctness, the Latin lover has become, with the odd exception, an endangered species (romantic comedies now prefer regular Anglo guys like Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline or Billy Crystal), but in this film Depp, complete in cloak and Zorro mask, comes close to filling, playfully, Valentino's mantle. As he tells his life to Brando in flashback, the stories become ever more colourful, kitsch and outrageous. A Mexican hacienda! An Arabian seraglio! A desert island called Eros! No escapade is too improbable, no flight of prose too purple ("Have you ever loved a woman until milk leaked from her?") for the caped crusader. But Depp plays him completely straight, and pretty soon Brando has bought into the dream, reviving his stale marriage and romancing his wife (Faye Dunaway) in high style, with roses, jewelry, champagne, a mariachi band.

Brando is truly humungous, although his face has retained relatively normal proportions: the effect is Michelin Man. You need bottle to play bedroom scenes when you're this big but Brando pulls it off, partly because he's sporting enough to make his first entrance with a joke about his weight, partly because he brings a grace, wit and intelligence to the role that still make him interesting and attractive. Depp agreed to work with Jeremy Leven, a first-time director, on condition that Brando be his co-star and you can believe the story. The strong rapport between him and Depp, and the tenderness and humour of his scenes with Dunaway (cast, for a change, in a warm and laid-back role) make the film unthinkable without him.

On one level, Don Juan De Marco is a variation on the old tale of the shrink who learns from his patient; on another, it's a celebration of romance, poetry and adventure - which are not seen as the exclusive prerogative of the very young. The film has its slow patches, and its fragile illusion probably doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. But, mostly, it dances on a very fine knife's edge between charm and absurdity, an irresistible paean to the art of kiss-kiss.

Bang-bang-bang: action pictures don't come more functional than Street Fighter (12), Based on a video game, it has the late Raul Julia as the megalomaniac General Bison with big plans for world domination, including Bisonopolis, a futuristic city, a diplomatic strategy - the pax Bisonicus - and a special currency bearing the Bison visage. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays his nemesis.

Steven E de Souza's film has a campy sense of humour and ideas above its small-screen station: extravagant production design and costumes that amount to a regular fashion parade.This season the well-dressed power- mad dictator is wearing a quilted red leather jerkin, silver platform boots, a military cap with a skull on it and, for those relaxing moments when rape is on the menu, a crushed-velvet smoking jacket. For his sidekick, I think perhaps a raw silk suit with butterfly lapels and an eye-patch: not just any old eye-patch, but one made of snakeskin. Even the cute camouflage uniforms worn by the opposing armies are colour-coordinated: scarlet for the baddies, powder-blue for the good guys. Not very practical, but so chic.

The rag-bag cast includes Simon Callow, Roshan Seth and, bizarrely, Kylie Minogue. Julia is sad to see: lit from below, presumably to make him seen sinister, he looks, above all, gaunt and ill - it's sadder still to find that this tosh has been dignified with a dedication to his memory. As for Jean-Claude, it's a tough stretch for him to play a figurine from an arcade game but, why, he almost manages to be convincing.

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