Thursday, 14 April 2016

GRIMSBY

CONTAINS SACHA BARON COHEN, WHICH PROBABLY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sacha Baron Cohen has never been one for restraint. Borat and Bruno were meticulous but unsuccessful attempts at the tightrope of dark, edgy comedy over the crevasse of puerile bad taste, while The Dictator chickened out of pointed satire and sought refuge in tedious offence. It might have lost the faux-documentary schtick but it still couldn't hammer home a weak joke hard enough.

Grimsby actively looks for the weakest possible gags and bludgeons them to a pulp with the biggest and bluntest instrument it can find, and there's none blunter than Cohen himself. Nothing is decreed off limits: poo, fat girls, semen, sweary kids, Aids, scrotums (scrota?), sticking things up bottoms, kiddies in wheelchairs... all combine to thoroughly humiliate a star cast that I refuse to believe are this hard up for work. Not the least of whom is Mark Strong, who has absolutely no excuse for this at all. For 28 years feckless and imbecilic layabout Nobby Butcher (Cohen) has been looking for his brother Sebastian (Strong) after they were separated in the foster system. Now Sebastian is a top MI6 agent on the trail of an international terrorist ring - until Nobby shows up and the two have to jet round the world (Cape Town, Chile) before movie star and tireless health charity fundraiser Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) can unleash a lethal virus at the World Cup Final....

All of this might be at least tolerable if the film was at least faintly amusing, but, in the established Sacha Baron Cohen tradition, it's half as funny as a repeat of Moneybox Live. I didn't laugh once throughout the entire screening (and nor did anyone else, though admittedly there were only three other people there); rather I found myself increasingly annoyed and bored with the relentless lowbrow grossout humour. It's actually quite surprising how little comedic mileage Sacha Baron Cohen and associates have managed to dredge out of the normally fertile spy spoof genre. But they're not really interested in the spy genre: it's just a thread to link up setpieces where the Butcher Brothers have to hide in an elephant's uterus (don't ask) while the male unleashes gallons of spunk over Mark Strong. Or a scene in which Strong gets a dart in his scrotum and Cohen has to suck the poison out. Oh, the hilarity.

It's like watching a five-year-old repeatedly shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he thinks it's funny, except that Cohen is now a proper grown-up but still shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he still thinks it's as funny as it ever was. Me, I thought it was foul, repugnant and tedious: not just to the point where I wished I wasn't watching it, but I started to wish it didn't exist. It's the kind of moronic rubbish that makes you want to not watch films any more.

*

THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STUFF

The ongoing quest to restore and remaster every last bit of cheerless grot from the 1980s, to preserve any old nonsense full of bad hair and terrible music for future generations to be thoroughly appalled by, continues with this prime example of the dreaded Teen Sex Comedy from Cannon, legendary purveyors of third-rate dross through the decades. This particular example actually succeeds on two counts: namely that it has teenagers and sex scenes in it, but fails doubly on the third as not only is it mesmerisingly not funny, but it genuinely seems trying not to be. Despite the marketing ploy to bill it as a film in the fine and noble tradition of Porky's, The Last American Virgin is a sour and surprisingly unlikeable item that doesn't do what it promises but attempts something else entirely, and doesn't do it very well.

Essentially it's the same old story as a thousand other Teen Sex Comedies from the 1980s, detailing the efforts of a trio of young thickos to get their end away with pretty much anyone who'll let them. Two of our heroes are immediately attracted to hot newcomer Karen: for awkward virgin Gary it's more emotional and romantic but for his best friend, charmless stud Rick, it's purely a quest to be first up there. In between the love/lust triangle bits there are various gruesome sexual misadventures including an indefatigable Spanish nymphomaniac (which is pure Confessions Of...) and a spectacularly repulsive encounter with the most raddled hooker imaginable.

With its jukebox soundtrack (Quincy Jones, The Commodores, The Cars, Oingo Boingo and Many Many More) The Last American Virgin seems like it's trying to be a new American Graffiti, though it's actually a remake of 1978's Lemon Popsicle, the first of seven Israeli sex comedies, updated from a 1950s setting and relocated to the USA. Some kudos are due for confounding expectations by ending on a staggeringly feelbad note, but the film has absolutely nothing going for it.

*

Sunday, 3 April 2016

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND FOR PITY'S SAKE CALM DOWN AND LIGHTEN UP

Oh, where do you start? Look, we know going on that it's not going to be fun: if you want jokes then there's a Marvel film coming soon and go and see that instead because Marvel do fun and DC don't. Marvel recognise superhero knockabout for what it is: colourful pantomime romps for kids, while DC operate under the delusion that the antics of Superman and Batman are supposed to be taken seriously as examinations of the human condition and psychological studies of mental trauma, so stop laughing at the back. The result of this has been a string of crowd-pleasing popcorn spectaculars from one camp and a series of cheerless, portentous bores from the other: the latter culminating in the head-banging destructo porn of Man Of Steel.

Sadly, Man Of Steel is a Last Of The Summer Wine rerun compared to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, an incoherent, incomprehensible, joyless bore that goes on for a punishing hundred and fifty minutes, approximately none of which make a blind bit of sense. It runs that long for two reasons: firstly the sheer amount of stuff that needs to be crammed into the plot. Beginning with the apocalyptic finale of Man Of Steel in which Metropolis is all but flattened, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) develops a sense of rage against the carnage and vows to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) down while at the same time dressing up as Batman so he can track down a Russian mobster called the White Portuguese. Meanwhile political forces (led by Senator Holly Hunter) are in play to bring Superman to Justice for his role in the carnage. Meanwhile Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is investigating some kind of conspiracy wherein the US government is selling arms to terrorists after an incident in Africa in which Superman eventually saved the day, but at the cost of a famous franchise character who isn't actually named until the end credits....

Meanwhile multi-millionaire industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has located a lump of Kryptonite and is planning to weaponise it. But his price for gifting this anti-Supes technology to the government is access to General Zod's spaceship and his body so that, once he's manipulated Superman into killing Batman (by using the Russian mobsters that Batman was taking down two hours earlier to kidnap Ma Kent), he can unleash an uncontrollable seventy-foot human-Kryptonian mutant hellbeast to get rid of Superman. (What he's planning to do with the creature afterwards is not disclosed.)

As a mere sideline, Luthor also has a photograph of one Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) which she's trying to retrieve since it was taken in 1918 and she's therefore Wonder Woman, another immortal superhero even if her costume is closer to Xena Warrior Princess than Supergirl. (She needs to be set up for her own movie as well as the Justice League films which will also feature the briefly teased Aquaman and The Flash because, hey, this sort of thing works so well with Marvel.)

The second reason this has to take ten minutes longer than 2001: A Space Odyssey is that Zack Snyder simply doesn't know when to stop: the word enough is not in his vocabulary. The only time Batman V Superman isn't turned up to eleven is when Snyder turns it down to twelve. Action scenes and monster/hero smackdowns go on for ever, so laden with flashy CGI whizzbang that you literally have no idea what just happened, while Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's score suborns you by sheer filling-loosening volume. (I saw it in a Dolby Atmos cinema; maybe local multiplexes without such systems would fare better.) Meanwhile the screen is filled with cornea-burning stuff that doesn't need to happen anyway: having put a transmitter on Lex Luthor's truck that contains the Kryptonite fragments, why does Batman need to indulge in a wildly destructive chase instead of just going home and watching the truck's progress on Google Maps? Why do we get to see Bruce Wayne's parents murdered yet again in gloating slo-mo, and Bruce falling into the cave full of bats again?

Why also do we get such a level of physical violence and intense monster horror in a film that's ostensibly for kids? How did it get away with an absurdly lenient 12A certificate from the BBFC? Unlike Man Of Steel, human casualties are largely avoided courtesy of a line of dialogue saying the area is uninhabited, but the Board's usual defence that it's fantasy violence doesn't hold: Superman may be an indestructible alien but Batman is just a human bloke in a rubber suit. It's completely inappropriate for anything lower than a 15 certificate and children really shouldn't be taken.

Disregarding the fact that the fifth (maybe sixth) act only works because of a happy coincidence involving names, the sad truth is that BVS-DOJ is a glum and senseless exercise in anger and destruction in which Batman is a miserable git, Superman is an international figure of hatred and Wonder Woman is barely in it anyway, all shot in Man Of Steel's washed-out colour palette that reduces everything to greys and browns. You can't see what's going on and you can't hear what's going on either. This has cost the studios and production companies a quarter of a billion dollars (IMDb estimate), which is a frankly obscene amount of money to spend on something so relentlessly dark and stupid. For all the entertainment value they've conjured up they might as well have fed the banknotes straight into an office shredder. Or given it to some hospitals and disaster relief funds. No film is really worth that much of corporations' cash, but some of them are at least worth a fiver of mine. This is not one of them.

*

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

LOVE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND PUT THAT THING AWAY BEFORE YOU HAVE SOMEONE'S EYE OUT WITH IT

Nudity! Explicit sex! Real hardcore action! Full-on humping! Threesomes! Group! Orgies! Boobs! Willies! Phwoooar! Get in there my son! Except that this is a serious Franco-Belgian arthouse drama about lost love and regrets, and not Miami Cheerleaders Gone Wild Vol 26, so you're expected to at least pretend to care about the relationships and to see the characters as believable human beings, and not just sit there watching it in your underwear and grunting. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during the national press show!) Frankly, pornography is in the wrist of the beholder, so if you want to get off on this one or 9 Songs or Nymph()maniac or some old episodes of Bergerac, fill your boots. Whatever does it for you.

In the event, however, that you want to see beyond the meat and look at the people underneath, Love tells of a three-way relationship in which alleged film student Murphy, feeling trapped and frustrated in his life with girlfriend Omi and their baby son, flashes back through his memories of a previous relationship with the more exciting, daring and passionate Electra (quite what either of these smart, intelligent young women see in this whiny little ratbag, for whom no number of smacks round the head with a chair leg would ever seem enough, is anyone's guess). This, however, was a relationship he threw away by knocking up Omi and behaving like a colossal knob when suspecting Electra of cheating on him. Now he has regrets, and wants to go back....

Curiously, given his technique of long takes from largely static cameras, Noe has filmed Love in 3D which might give the hardcore some extra oomph although there are only a couple of moments where the extra depth might have been noticeable: our hero blowing smoke rings to camera and the predictable, and inevitable, money shot, but for most of the time nothing "leapt out" from the 2D Blu as being worthy of the stereoscopy effect. The extensive needle-drop soundtrack throws up a few surprises: a sex club sequence is mysteriously backed with the theme to Assault On Precinct 13, while an early tryst plays against the off-kilter lullaby music from Deep Red, of all things.

Nothing much happens in Love beyond alternating scenes of Murphy whining and mumbling, and Murphy humping either or both of the two women. As a film it's much, much lighter and far less uncomfortable than the last two Gaspar Noe films, Enter The Void and (obviously) Irreversible. But the emphasis on nudity and copulation gets a bit wearing after a while and frankly it's a relief when they spend five minutes with their clothes on. A little more background and a little less grind and throb wouldn't have gone amiss, to be honest. Whereas a film like Blue Is The Warmest Colour spaced the sex sequences out so that you understood the characters long before they ever took their clothes off, here the leads are naked and going at each other literally from the first frame. That's not to suggest I didn't enjoy it: it's interesting enough, but don't put it on it if there's any chance of someone else wandering into the room at precisely the wrong moment.

***

Monday, 28 March 2016

URBAN MENACE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DULLNESS

Industrial strength idiocy from Albert Pyun that's very probably the worst thing he ever did, and that's including his horrendous cheapo Captain America movie from 1990. I used to have a soft spot for Pyun based on dumb but good-looking SF thrillers like the first Nemesis (the nominal sequels were vehicles for bodybuilder Sue Price and aren't anywhere near as interesting) and dumb but good-looking action movies like Blast (basically Die Hard In An Olympic Swimming Pool), but this is a whole new and terrifying level of bloody awful filmmaking and a sad comedown from someone who started with the engaging sub-Conan twaddle of The Sword And The Sorceror. Every single facet is botched beyond salvage, either through bone-headed incompetence or (more likely) no-one giving a single wet shit about it.

Urban Menace starts off with Ice-T banging on direct to camera about how this film is going to be really offensive and full of blood and gore and swearing (well, one out of three ain't bad) before settling into the story of idiot gangsters wandering around an abandoned building and getting killed by Snoop Dogg, apparently because his entire family were murdered when an evil gangster firebombed his church. Is Dogg a ghost, an evil spirit, a demon, or did he just survive and start killing off the bad guy's halfwit goons in revenge?

Half the cast seem to be rappers who can't act (one of them has been given substantial amounts of dialogue yet can barely speak) and the other half seem to be actors who can't act either. Technically it's borderline unwatchable: the digital effects of a burning church at the start couldn't be less realistic if they'd been drawn on the back of an envelope, the picture quality looks like a fifth-generation VHS tape that's been dunked in a sewer until everything is tinged green and is in such low definition that you'll think you're undergoing a glaucoma attack. Violent splatter is notable by its absence (it's earned its 18 certificate just for the monotonous overuse of the Oedipal Expletive), and the audio includes the same dull Ice-T song at least three times. Presented on DVD in a ratio that doesn't properly fit any TV set, in a 2-for-1 set with The Wrecking Crew, another of Pyun's urban thrillers shot at the same time with most of the same cast (which I haven't seen and am not going to), Snoop Dogg's Hood Of Stupidity is only about 76 minutes long and that includes very slow credit rolls fore and aft. Utter, utter garbage.

*

Sunday, 27 March 2016

HIGH-RISE

CONTAINS SPOILERS

When this first appeared around the time of the London Film Festival I wondered whether I'd actually enjoy it when it finally came out. I've never been much of a fan of Ben Wheatley: Sightseers was okay as a dark but silly sitcom, but I wasn't overly struck on Kill List (three meh films bolted together into one) and I absolutely hated A Field In England (unwatchable first year media studies coursework): films to pretend to be impressed by rather than to actually enjoy. Given all the raves and enthusiasm, would this new one make me a Team Ben flagwaver?

As it turns out, no: set in some kind of alternative 1970s retro future, High-Rise is a tiresome and obvious screed about the social inequality, class warfare, the inevitable collapse of a too-rigidly structured society and how rich people are bastards. Architect Jeremy Irons claims he's developed his high rise as "a crucible for change" (yet merely replicates the "toffs at the top, plebs at the bottom" system we've had for centuries): he and his coterie of similarly over-moneyed scum live like Roman emperors in the luxury apartments, throwing decadent parties and hogging the amenities. Meanwhile the oiks downstairs are getting bolshy with unreasonable demands for the rights and services that they've paid for; the power goes out and everything turns into some kind of ghastly post-apocalypic nightmare.

So what are we supposed to make of High-Rise? Obviously it's not supposed to make literal, narrative sense: it's an allegory of capitalism complete with lines like Keeley Hawes' despairing "The trouble with poor people is they're obsessed with money" as she whines about having to pay her miserable housekeeper who has to clean dogshit off the carpets. Our lead (he's not a hero by any means) is neurologist Tom Hiddleston: he starts out as our way into this microcosm, but even he succumbs to the madness, shagging left and right and really leaving us no-one to side with. The other key line is Hawes' "Okay, which one of you guys wants to f*** me up the a***?", which instantly sent me back to a similar line in White Mischief, another rich-people-are-horrible exercise.

Once you've sat through the first half hour or so of this prattling nonsense, you do wish the damned place would just turn into Towering Inferno and catch fire (except the emergency services don't bother turning up: the police only appear briefly and never return). Or parasites would get into the apartments and turn everyone into slavering maniacs like the residents of Starliner Towers in David Cronenberg's classic Shivers (in which the swimming pool is also a significant location in a soulless apartment block). Instead everyone just degenerates into animalistic savagery, and it's neither entertaining, intellectually stimulating or dramatically interesting. It ends with an audio clip of Margaret Thatcher speechifying about capitalism, because hey guys, capitalism is horrible and rich people are bastards. Right?

But I guess I knew I wouldn't love it. Having emphatically not loved any other Ben Wheatley films thus far, it would be too much to hope I'd suddenly settle into his groove. What surprised me is just how much I didn't like it, just how bored I was, just how irritating I found it, just how much I didn't care about anybody or anything on screen. Yes, it looks nice. Yes, it's got A-list stars. Yes, there are a few oddly interesting music choices (a Portishead version of Abba's SOS). And yes, it's probably very heartfelt and important. Is it any good at all on any of its levels? Sadly not. It's frustrating, politically clunky and very, very dull and I liked it less than anything else I've seen in a cinema this year.

*

CARRY ON COLUMBUS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ZERO LAUGHS

Is there much more dispiriting than a comedy that just flat out refuses to work despite the best and most strenuous efforts of everyone involved? Well, how about a comedy where no-one seems to care very much? How about a comedy where a clearly talented cast are thoroughly defeated by the dead-on-the-page material and have no real interest in anything other than getting it over with as quickly as possible? You can see it in their eyes that every last one of them would rather be doing absolutely anything even if it's just staring out of the window: they know that no-one is getting out with a shred of dignity intact and this is one of those calamities that seemed like a good idea at the time - except there's no way this ever looked like a good idea. Small wonder then that Maureen Lipman tried to put it into Room 101 when she was the show's special guest. And small wonder the film has disappeared from UK distribution entirely following its VHS release: no-one wants to touch the damned thing. What beats me is why anyone went near it in the first place.

The idea of doing a comedic take on Columbus' discovery of America on the 500th anniversary isn't necessarily a bad one - as a complement to the two serious 1492 films - but Carry On Columbus needed a script that took longer than ten days to throw together and enough of a budget to ensure the shipboard scenes were better staged than the Cockermouth Amateur Operatic Society's last production of HMS Pinafore. The end result looks cheap and tawdry and it's not funny: it meshes the production values of an ITV studio sitcom with the sparkling wit and wordplay of an ITV studio sitcom.

Given the absences of Sid James, Kenneth Williams, the peerless Charles Hawtrey and the rest of the gang, rebooting the Carry On brand makes about as much sense as bringing back Abbott And Costello or George Formby: they were of their time and that time has long gone. Only a handful of familiar Carry On faces were still around in 1992 and not all of them were keen on dancing those old steps again anyway so to fill the gaps a stellar assortment of new comedians (Alexei Sayle, Julian Clary, Rik Mayall, Peter Richardson) try and fail to make anything of the thuddingly awful script. Clary and Richard Wilson do their usual thing, while veterans of the series like Jon Pertwee, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield are given almost nothing to do and top-billed Jim Dale and Bernard Cribbins are given lots to do, none of it worth doing.

Compensations? Redeeming features? Anything on the positive side? Well, it's fairly short, and it's arguably 0.02% less offensive than Carry On Emmanuelle. But it was still a monumentally bad idea badly executed: a long way from the glory days of Cleo, Screaming, Henry and (my personal favourite) Cowboy. Hardly worth watching, even for series fans and masochists.

*

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

LONDON HAS FALLEN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IDIOCY

Every so often there's one of those strange coincidences which throws up two similarly-themed movies around the same time (Volcano and Dante's Peak, Antz and A Bug's Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon): in 2013 we got two knuckle-headed action movies that were basically Die Hard In The White House. Neither White House Down nor Olympus Has Fallen were great films, but they were enjoyable enough: mindless popcorn spectaculars full of gung-ho flagwaving and big explosions with a not very well hidden Author's Message of Don't Mess With America.

In London Has Fallen, presidential bodyguard Gerard Butler doesn't so much wrap himself in the Stars And Stripes as tattoo it on his knuckles and challenge the rest of the world to come and have a go. No sooner have various world leaders gathered in London for the funeral of the British PM (including a randy Italian, cavorting with his lady friend atop Westminster Abbey) than terrorists show up with grenades and guns and rocket launchers and proceed to blow everyone and everything away. Butler manages to get the Prez out of the danger zone, but the arms dealer mastermind behind the carnage has special plans for him and has recruited legions of troops to capture him....

It's thoroughly terrible, and it's objectionable on numerous levels. Let's not bother too much with the female characters, because the film certainly doesn't: Radha Mitchell gets a bit at the start and finish as Butler's pregnant wife and Angela Bassett has a few scenes as his boss, while Charlotte Riley turns up over half way through as an MI5 agent who gets to take out the secondary villain. Let's be more concerned with the film's frankly ugly political stance which would make Chuck Norris look like a bit of a softie: Butler's declaration that "everyone is a terrorist scumbag until proven otherwise" might carry a bit more weight if he (or the film) actually gave any of them a chance to prove otherwise before emptying a handgun into them at first sight: he's not so much "shoot first, ask questions later" than "shoot first, move on".

Even as blokey, sweary, aggressively right-wing macho gun fantasies go, however, London Has Fallen is rubbish: maybe you could forgive, or at least ignore, the alarming politics and the sidelining of all the female characters if the movie was big dumb fun or at least competently strung together the way this sentence isn't. For a film that actively promises to kaboom most of London it's surprisingly lacking in spectacular money shots: we don't get to see Buck House, Big Ben or the Raymond Revuebar orgasmically reduced to digital cinders. And the destruction we do see is performed with CGI so unconvincing you suspect the FX crew from Sharknado have either lowered their game or they got a bulk deal on ZX Spectrums.

It's less of a meat-and-potatoes thudfest and more of a boiled-beef-and-carrots wet slap of a film, Compensation is very thin on the ground: there are big names in the cast (Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Colin Salmon, Robert Forster) but they're given nothing to do; Morgan Freeman does his worthy, statesmanlike Morgan Freeman act again, and the naming of one second banana character does result in a pleasing (or terrifying) mention of "Prime Minister Clarkson" towards the end. None of it makes any sense on a narrative level, it's morally questionable to anyone outside of the EDL whackjob club (Butler swearily tells one goon, who he miraculously hasn't shot yet, to go back to wherever he came from), it has absolutely no sense of humour, and it's slung together with a lack of quality control bordering on audience contempt. Everyone involved should really sit down in a darkened room for a few hours and think seriously about what they've done.

*

Thursday, 3 March 2016

THE FOREST

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND RAW HORROR

You know that feeling when you're watching a movie and you're seduced into the atmosphere and the general vibe? You're sucked into the mood and the look of the film, you've settled into its groove when DEMON!!! suddenly and without warning something horrible appears out of nowhere to make you jump? It's an undeniably effective and GHOST!!! reliable horror film tactic, like a jab with a sharp stick, but it looks a little hackneyed now and it feels cheap and WHOA!!! SCARY FACE!!! lazy when the film is absolutely capable of MONSTER!!! EEEK!!! conjuring up a perfectly persuasive aura of dread and anxiety without resorting NIGEL FARAGE!!!! to the easiest of jack-in-the-box techniques.

It's as if the makers of The Forest don't trust the material to deliver without zazzing it up, and they really should. Schoolteacher Jess (Natalie Dormer) has gone missing in Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji with a history as a suicide site. Her sister Sara (also Dormer) travels over to find out what happened to her: trusting the psychic bond between the identical twins over the fears and concerns of Jess' colleagues, pupils and the locals....

As an American stab at J-Horror (though shot over five and a half thousand miles away in Serbia), it certainly has the folklore and mythology aspect we got maybe a little overfamiliar with in the immediate wake of Ringu and Ju-On (mercifully, there are no jerky-limbed girl ghosts with faces obscured by lank black hair). It has a pleasing darkness and cold dread about it. But every so often it has to yell Boo! in your ear and while that may send the popcorn flying it leaves the sense that things would have been more unsettling had they concentrated on the film as a whole rather than the isolated (and sometimes irrelevant) jump moments. The end result feels like a missed opportunity as the legends of Aokigahara - a real place with a genuine history - would have made a perfectly decent movie by themselves.

***

Thursday, 11 February 2016

FROM VEGAS TO MACAU III

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WHUUUU....?

Your response to this third instalment of the From Vegas To Macau series (previous entries are also referred to as The Man From Macau films, but apparently not this one) will most likely depend on a number of factors. Far from the least of these is some regard for Hong Kong action movies and comedies from the late 80s and early 90s, specifically films of the God Of Gamblers ilk, with all their overblown sentimentality, wild overacting, idiotic slapstick and occasional forays into what we decadent and unsophisticated Westerners might regard as the politically incorrect. Which, as it happens, I do. Secondly, an appreciation of the mighty Chow Yun-Fat: once regarded as The Coolest Man In The World at the time on the back of bullet-heavy Heroic Bloodshed epics like A Better Tomorrow II, Hard Boiled and the genuinely awesome The Killer (all by John Woo), and still at it aged sixty and not looking it (either he's had some fantastic work done or he truly is one of The Immortals amongst us). Not being unduly bothered by a level of CGI that the makers of Sharknado would consider shoddy is probably an advantage as well.

Most importantly, you need at least some idea of the first two movies, which might be difficult given that neither of them have had any official distribution in the UK. However, even if you've watched them in the last week (they are out there on, ahem, "a website") you're going to struggle because the narrative veers wildly between "wayward" and "not giving a toss what you think". From Vegas To Macau III is as loosely plotted a film as you'll ever see, to the extent that even attempting a synopsis is on a par with clearing out the Augean Stables, but briefly it concerns a mad scientist (Jacky Cheung) who has kept alive villainess Molly (Carina Lau) from the second film after she dived from the back of an aeroplane with no parachute. Molly was the old flame of legendary gambler Ken (Chow Yun-Fat) who starts this film in tears at the marriage of his daughter to his protege; the only cure is for him to be hypnotised (by someone doing a Brando/Corleone impression for no good reason) into thinking it's his fat cousin instead. Then an exploding robot duplicate of Andy Lau turns up and Chow ends up in prison for stealing $15 million. They escape, there's a romance between a couple of domestic robots, and they all head off to a casino island with Ken pretending to be Ko Chun (Chow's character from God Of Gamblers).

There are musical numbers, a card game with Psy, a brief dream sequence where a blacked-up Chow is eaten by a dinosaur (!?), a long sequence where he thinks he's the hero of an old kung fu movie, some table tennis, giant flying robots, someone dressed up as Spiderman (again for no good reason) to play a dice game, a custard pie fight and a martial arts sequence where Andy Lau takes on ten robot Andy Laus in the villain's basement. It is all spectacularly stupid and makes no coherent sense whatsoever, leaping from knuckleheaded knockabout to computer-generated action sequences to Chow Yun-Fat mugging furiously to Chow Yun-Fat looking cool in a tux. But there are no moments which suggest actual jeopardy for actual characters (as there were in both previous films); it's winking at the audience so aggressively throughout that you can't take a second of it seriously and it's clear that none of the cast and crew were either. When the traditional blooper reel over the end credits is no different in tone to the actual movie, something's gone awry.

Hong Kong cinema has always been its own beast and has never abided by Hollywood multiplex rules: that's why we like it. But From Vegas To Macau III is so random and uncoordinated, even by the standards of the first two films, that it never hangs together and collapses into a string of odd sequences that aren't nearly as awesome as they should be. Essentially it's got no more substance than a Carry On film; that doesn't mean it's not occasionally amusing, but this isn't even one of the good ones. The end credits suggest a 3D post-conversion, but thankfully the UK cinema release is in Normalvision.

**

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

BEVERLY HILLS NINJA

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MILD DESPAIR

Sometimes you see a film and can't stop wondering what the script meetings were like. Maybe you can envisage the writer toiling endlessly at Microsoft Word, agonising over every comma, while surrounded by piles of research notes and dramatic flowcharts. Or you can imagine them roaring with hysterical laughter at every zinger they've crafted for Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen to kill stone dead. Maybe you can even hear their carefully tailored Spotify playlist, especially crafted to inspire their creativity even further.

I can't help feeling that in the case of Beverly Hills Ninja the meeting took less time than you'd need to soft boil an egg. "Here's the pitch: he's a fat, incompetent ninja and he falls over a lot," most likely with assorted cover versions of Kung Fu Fighting burbling away in the background. That's all there is to it: the late Chris Farley plays an imbecile ninja who, absurdly, cracks an international counterfeiting racket and, even more absurdly, cops off with the hot blonde at the end.

It's rubbish, obviously: a witless Ow My Balls parade of falling over, stupidity, silly voices, walking into walls, falling over, breaking things, setting things on fire, falling over, fighting and falling over for those who find Mr Bean too intellectually daunting. Sure, some of the falling over is funny (a couple of times, anyway), but aside from bonehead slapstick the film doesn't have much in its comedic armoury. No-one goes into a film called Beverly Hills Ninja expecting a Noel Coward script of glittering witticisms, but surely there should be room for something a little more sophisticated than an overweight bloke repeatedly hurting himself and behaving like an idiot while Kung Fu Fighting plays on the soundtrack. According to the IMDb, Chris Farley wept at the first screening.

**

BEWITCHED

DIDDLE-IDDLE-DEE! CONTAINS SPOILERS

Mediocre high-concept nonsense wherein nostril-wiggling witch Nicole Kidman decides to try and live like a real non-magical human by moving to Los Angeles and taking the lead role in a reboot of TV sitcom Bewitched (wherein a witch decides to try and live like a real non-magical human). The resultant mess of self-referential in-jokery and the collision of fantasy, fake reality, meta-reality and "real" reality (in which one of the other characters on the show is also played by a witch, and another previously unseen character turns up in the "real" world) would cause the Tardis to crash into the middle of the Sun in confused bafflement, and it has to be said that Bewitched's makers do not pull it off.

Already multi-layered matters are complicated further when she gets involved with her co-star, a thundering halfwit played by Will Ferrell who wants all the glory of the new show for himself; the trouble is that viewers only like the show for her and not for him. Meanwhile Michael Caine is probably the best thing on show, materialising every so often as Kidman's witchy dad to lech around young women, and Shirley MacLaine is another witchy actress playing a TV witch.

It's not any good at all, and Will Ferrell in particular is as thoroughly charmless as he ever is, but the film is occasionally amusing enough to more or less just about scrape under the wire. The TV studio background is interesting, though the sitcom they're all making looks terrible and the Kidman-Ferrell romance simply doesn't work. But at the very least it's never terrible enough to be actively annoying. Instead it's just something inconsequential, burbling merrily away to itself but never capturing your complete attention. Hardly worth the effort.

**