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CINEMA: It's neither big nor clever; CULTURE Mike Davies reviews the week's new cinema releases.

Byline: Mike Davies

NORBIT

CERT 12A 102 MINS

*

When Eddie Murphy stormed out of the Oscars ceremony in a pet-ulant fit after Alan Arkin snatched Best Supporting Actor from under his nose, he might have well wondered how it could happen. After all, he was an almost dead cert favourite to win. Here's the answer.

Any good will accrued for his Dreamgirls performance was surely wiped away with this crass, crude, offensive and, more fatally, agonisingly unfunny comedy in which he manages to be jaw-droppingly awful in not one but three separate roles.

First he's the titular bespectacled goofy nerd, secondly he's the whaling obsessed bigot Mr Wong (the most non-PC Oriental caricature since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's) who runs the orphanage-cum-restaurant where he was raised, and thirdly, clearly not having had enough of fat suit prosthetics in The Nutty Professor, he's the obese Raspu-tia, the repellently domineering, volatile Big Momma who thinks she's a hot babe and has pressured Norbit into marrying her.

The story, which incredibly took four people to write, basically involves the return of Nor-bit's childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton who could surely sue for artistic abuse) to take over the orphanage and a plot by her gold-digging fiance (Cuba Gooding, still being shown the money rather than the script) and Rasputia's hulking thug brothers to use the lovestruck Norbit to con her so they can take it over and turn it into a strip bar.

When not labouring the tortuously unlikely romance between Kate and Norbit, the film spends its time either churning out repetitive fat jokes and fart gags or parading an assortment of tired ethnic stereotypes that include a couple of jive talking flashily dressed pimps. And just when you think it can't sink any lower, Norbit hallucinates a foul-mouthed talking dog.

Full marks to Rick Baker's make-up which renders Murphy unrecognisable as Wong and, in a nauseating bikini scene, does stomach folds and cellulite far more authentically than you could possibly wish. Were it not for Mr Bean's Holiday looming, this would have already be unassailably the worst movie of the year.

GONE

CERT 15 88 MINS

**

Beware of Americans bearing lifts. It's never a good time to be a backpacker in the movies, so you'd think even innocents abroad might be wise to the dangers of getting into cars with strange men who smile rather too earnestly and want to be your new best friend.

But no, here we are again travelling down a familiar road, this time in the Australian outback where, enjoying a carefree romantic holiday, Brit couple Sophie (Amelia Warner) and Alex (Shaun Evans) hook up with enigmatic but amiable - and more importantly mobile - Yank drifter Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz, a far distance from EuroTrip)

He persuades them how much more fun it might be to get off the usual boring tourist trail of surf friendly beaches and head for the real Aussie experience of Godforsaken bush, desert and dead 'roos.

Inevitably, it's not long before Alex starts to suspect there might be an ulterior motive to their new travelling companion's friendship. Sophie's pants, for example.

However, since the nascent nutter happens to have an incriminating Polaroid from the drunken night they spend prior to Sophie's arrival, he decides not to push his luck in the hope she eventually sees Taylor for what he is.

But, as the trip continues and tensions rise, things come to a head at an isolated motel (just why do they have motels in the middle of nowhere - incidentally, the film's original title), with Alex apparently storming off into the night.

For such a short film it takes a hell of a long time before anything actually happens and anyone familiar with the genre won't find anything new here as things head for a bloody climax which, once again, reminds that you can't be totally sure someone's dead until you've positively driven over them at least half a dozen times.

The performances are persuasive, at least until the script requires everyone to start acting illogically, and, making his feature debut, commercials director Ringwan Ledwidge brings a striking visual edge to the landscape. A pity he couldn't find a way to put all the simmering tension to more satisfying, less predictable ends.

BECOMING JANE

CERT PG 120 MINS

***

We've had Beatrix Potter's tragic love life, now (once again with an American actress and an accent) it's the turn of that other BritLit icon, Jane Austen, to have her romantic life put under the cinema microscope to explore how she came to write Pride & Prejudice.

So, who was the real Mr D'Arcy? Well, according to Julian Jarrold's biopic, he was modelled on Tom Lefroy, a young lawyer with whom the 20-year-old Hampshire girl had a chaste romance in the summer of 1796. He would later name his daughter, Jane.

Lefroy's descendants and most Austenites, take this with a pinch of salt. Indeed even the filmmakers admit they're on thin ground, Kevin Hood's screenplay somewhat fancifully expanded from Jon Spence's biography which, based on a handful of known facts, postulates that the couple had a brief doomed love affair.

No real problem there, biopics have traditionally played fast and loose with the facts in the cause of entertainment.

With Spence serving as historical consultant to Hood's imagination, the premise is that Lefroy was pivotal in developing and shaping Austen's writing, giving a feisty but romantically inexperienced girl a taste of passion that would inform her work, provide the recurring figure of the unreliable young man, and explain why she gave her characters the happy endings she herself was denied.

Here Jane (Anne Hathaway) isn't some prim and proper spinster, but a spirited young woman refusing to play according to the social rules, wishing to marry for love rather than, as her parents (James Cromwell, Julie Walters) encourage, make a match for monev.

Enter the rebellious, slightly arrogant Lefroy (James McA-voy), exiled to the sticks by his imperious Judge uncle (Ian Richardson) so he can learn responsibility, prickly early encounters and verbal sparring giving way to growing mutual attraction before respective economic imperatives tear them apart.

Fair enough. Though a little bland and a touch too modern, Hathaway at least comes alive in the scenes with the ever excellent McAvoy and they do at least get to kiss.

However, the film just tries too hard to underline the note for note correspondences between Austen's life and the characters in her fiction.

OUTLAW

CERT 18 105 MINS

**

Returning from Iraq, stressed out veteran para Sean Bean finds himself dumped by his wife, ignored by the government and disgusted by the breakdown of law and order.

He's enlisted by Sean Harris, a creepy security guard with a chip on his shoulder and delusions of vigilante grandeur, to train up three victims of the justice system and police corruption; Lennie James, a barrister whose wife and unborn baby are killed because he's prosecuting a London drugs baron, and flashy office worker Danny Dyer and Cambridge student Rupert Friend, both of whom have suffered vicious beatings.

With disillusioned cop Bob Hoskins feeding them inside information on the gang boss and other unsavoury types, the posse set about evening the score, swiftly becoming folk heroes to the public while being hunted by the police and gangsters alike.

More serious-minded than previous outings The Football Factory and The Business, writer-director Nick Love looks to address some provocatively relevant issues in regard to contemporary society and culture and the response by the media and authorities.

Unfortunately, having set up some strong themes and thoughtful controversial debate, this then tends to fall by the wayside as the film becomes increasingly a sort of cross between Deathwish and Young Guns, character development and conflicts giving way to routine crime thriller action and violence.

AFTER THE WEDDING

CERT 15, 123 MINS

SUBTITLED

***

Struggling to keep the Bombay orphanage where he works afloat, aid worker Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is delighted when Danish multi-millionaire Jorgen (Rold Lassgard) offers to provide a hefty donation. The annoying proviso is that he has to return to Copenhagen to pitch his proposals in person.

However, arriving back home for the first time in years, Jacob soon discovers that's not the only catch. Invited to attend his benefactor's daughter's wedding reception, he's taken aback to discover that not only is Jorgen's wife, Helena (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is his own former lover but that newlywed Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) is actually the child he didn't know he had.

Emotions understandably reeling, he also discovers Jorgen was well aware of what he was doing when he extended the invitation.

To say more would spoil the narrative twists and turns, although anyone who saw My Life Without Me might have a good idea where it's all heading.

CAPTION(S):

It's not quite the worst film of the year, but Norbit should still be avoided like the plague; They should have stayed in the car: Routine Aussie shocker Gone; The fragrant Ann Hathaway in Becoming Jane; After The Wedding, one of the week's best films, comes from Sweden and it's very intense; Outlaw starts off promising but descends into a standard drama with menaces
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Article Type:Movie review
Date:Mar 8, 2007
Words:1527
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