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Film reviews: Along Came A Spider has some of the most unconvincing effects seen since Thomas The Tank Engine...

Byline: Jonathan Ross

Along Came A Spider

(15, 103mins)

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

(15, 128mins)

AntiTrust

(12, 109mins)

Along Came A Spider is the second film starring Morgan Freeman to be taken from the popular Alex Cross novels. I say popular, although I'd never heard of them, and don't know anyone who's ever read one... but someone must like 'em.

The first Cross movie was Kiss The Girls in 1997. I dimly recall seeing it, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was like. I know it starred Ashley Judd and was about a serial killer - which lumps it in with a third of all cop dramas that came out in the last few years. I suspect it was cheap to make and did well at the box office before having a profitable run in video stores. Hence this not-bad sequel to a forgettable first film.

Freeman reprises his role as Washington detective and psychologist Dr Alex Cross. He loses his partner in an elaborate stake-out that develops into a manic police chase and ends with some of the most unconvincing computer-generated special effects I've seen since the big screen disaster that was Thomas The Tank Engine.

With his partner dead, Cross goes into a tailspin of depression, signalled to us by his absorption in building intricately-detailed model ships. As you will know, super-smart cops and profilers in these kind of films always have an offbeat but upmarket hobby to mark them out as different. But when a senator's daughter is spirited away from a high security school, the kidnapper challenges Cross to solve the crime. Eight months on, he is back in the business he has lost his heart for, and with a new partner.

The plot is harder to predict than most of this genre, but that's mainly because it turns so heavily upon coincidence and improbable motivations that when you stop and take a sober look it's impossible to believe in. I'm prepared to accept a number of coincidences and overlook the odd loophole, but this plot consists of nothing else.

The film's saving grace is Morgan Freeman who brings a sober yet compelling charisma to every scene he's in. He can even make the simple act of thinking seem enthralling. Monica Potter is suitably photogenic as his partner Jezzie. And Michael Wincott is the cliched psycho - one of those super-intelligent sickos who have not only unlimited resources to pull off their twisted schemes, but also the brilliance to run rings around armies of highly-paid and trained professionals.

If you loved Kiss The Girls or need another fix of Morgan Freeman, then be my guest. But if you're anything like me you'll wait for it to turn up on TV.

Next up this week is a film it's hard to ignore. Based on the award-winning novel by Louis De Bernieres, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is an extravagantly shot epic about love and war.

Penelope Cruz plays Pelagia, the daughter of a rebellious doctor (John Hurt), who lives on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Sheltered from the outside world, the islanders' world is rocked by the outbreak of the Second World War.

When Mussolini's Italian army sides with the Germans and invades Albania, the Greeks have no choice but to get involved. Pelagia's beau Mandras (Christian Bale) rushes off to fight the Italians, leaving her longing for her lover. But the Greek victory in Albania proves short-lived. As Hitler's advance continues, Italian armies are stationed in the Ionian islands.

The charismatic, mandolin-playing Captain Corelli turns up in Cephalonia with his singing troop and, over time, has the locals warming to his honesty and optimism. As Pelagia falls for his charms the memory of her fiance gets more distant by the day.

The film looks great. It is beautifully shot, the island is gorgeous, and most of the cast look just right. Penelope Cruz has that gawky beauty thing going on that makes her perfect for this role. Surprisingly, the weakest link is Nicolas Cage, who seems too old and lumpy for a romantic hero. He overuses those big, soulful eyes of his, and seems more like an abandoned puppy than a vital, attractive, young man.

I wanted to like this film, but I didn't believe that any of the people in it cared about any of the others. There's no sense of genuine passion or interaction between the characters, which is a bit of a problem in a love story. I'm no expert, but even the mandolin playing sounded a bit shaky.

I've never read the novel, although apparently the film avoids some of the more interesting plot strands that made it such a memorable read. Maybe they should have stayed truer to the original, rather than serve up such a bland movie.

Also out this week is techno thriller AntiTrust. Computer programmer Milo (Ryan Phillippe) is headhunted by a massive software company, NURV, owned by Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), but once there he believes he may have sold his soul to the corporate devil. There are nefarious goings-on and he enlists the help of his colleague Lisa (Rachael Leigh Cook) to find out what. But once the company realises what he's up to there is more at stake than his P45.

AntiTrust is ostensibly a modern film, yet there's something rather old-fashioned, in a '70s way, about it all. Instead of the government being the sinister nemesis, it's a Microsoft-style company - and NURV is a suitably dumb name for the premise that this film is precariously balanced on.

Again, there are too many unbelievable plot twists and ludicrous situations for this to be anything more than a minor diversion, and it has nothing to say about the genuinely insidious nature of big business. The film's a bit of a clunky turkey when all is said and done, and should be approached by anyone over 18 with caution. Mildly entertaining.

CAPTION(S):

STUMPED: Morgan Freeman is back as crimebuster Alex Cross; and Nic Cage goes on the fiddle and gets the girl (Penelope Cruz)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 4, 2001
Words:1008
Previous Article:Film : Q A& with... Alex Cox.
Next Article:SHY-BABY BUNTON: Interview - Emma Bunton; As her solo career takes off, Emma Bunton talks to PRECIOUS WILLIAMS.


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