Anyone still reeling from Thirteen's terrifying exposé of teenaged American girls, should take comfort in Freaky Friday (PG), which reassures us that mothers and daughters can still understand each other, just as long as they can magically switch personalities for a day. A remake of the 1977 Jodie Foster body-swap comedy, the 2003 model features Jamie Lee Curtis as a widow with two children, a career in psychology, and an imminent wedding to plan. Her 15-year-old daughter (Lindsay Lohan) has just as much on her mind - exams, a rock band, a pesky brother, and a crush on an older boy who is named, inevitably, Jake. Each thinks the other one has got it easy. Could they be about to learn a valuable lesson, perhaps?
Whether or not you remember the original film, you'll know where Freaky Friday is going, and once or twice you'll wince at the route it takes to get there. The reason the mother and daughter exchange identities is that they've been fed enchanted fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant - those wacky Orientals and their occult ways! But Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon have written a much better script than the 1977 film had, and once Curtis has the mind of a teenager and Lohan has the mind of her mum, the comedy zings along. Both actresses are excellent. Curtis revels in the role of a gauche and gawky girl who calls her mother's patients "psycho freaks", and inserts "like" into every sentence. Lohan, who avoids the blandness of Hilary Duff and her ilk, has a subtle command of fortysomething body language. Mid-conversation, for instance, she unconsciously reaches out and adjusts her friend's top so her midriff isn't showing. Yes, Lohan is lampooning adults, and Curtis is lampooning kids, but they're doing so with insight and affection. The finale brought a lump to my throat - and I'm neither a teenaged girl nor the mother of one.
If you're going to see only one film about talking canines this year, then rent the video of Cats & Dogs, because Good Boy! (U) is an inferior rehash. It's about a boy who discovers that canines are articulate extra-terrestrials, but this shattering revelation leads to no adventure more thrilling than a game of "fetch" and no jokes above the "doggone it" standard. Worse, it's gooey and manipulative, and full of hugging and sniffling; we're meant to come away with a renewed veneration for the profoundly important place that pooches have in our world. Put up against Cats & Dogs, Good Boy! lacks brains, imagination, excitement, and, of course, cats.
Almost as bad is another film with the paw print of the Jim Henson workshop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PG). One of the weirder pop-cultural phenomena of the late Eighties and early Nineties, the Turtles started life as spoof superheroes in a cult comic book before mutating into cartoon and computer game characters and all-round merchandising bonanzas. Their popularity climaxed with a live-action movie in 1990, and it's this film that's being re-released in cinemas now, presumably to sell more toys. But be warned: TMNT has aged as badly as its leading lady's frizzy perm. It looks dismal and cheap, and the script and acting are of bargain basement quality.
Dexterous puppeteering can't stop us noticing that while its four heroes may be man-sized reptiles, they're still pizza-munching brats who say "Awesome" and "Radical" all the time.
This week's two other re-releases are somewhat different. Kenji Mizoguchi's The Lady of Musashino (PG) and The Life of O-Haru (PG), from 1951 and 1952 respectively, are on at the Renoir. The latter film, an episodic melodrama about the decline and fall of a 17th-century imperial servant, is considered to be Mizoguchi's masterpiece.
Amandla! (12A) documents how music motivated and sustained the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Interviewees including Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim agree that the fight was "a revolution in four-part harmony", as the sub-title contends. But the film tries to fit in so many issues, songs, people and events that it gives us no more than an unsatisfying snippet of each. A soundtrack CD might tell the story more eloquently.
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