London Boulevard – 2*

Oscar-winning The Departed writer William Monahan’s directorial debut, London Boulevard, is one of those films that prompts the immediate reaction of ‘hmmm’: You really don’t know how to process what you’ve just seen – unless you’re an avid Colin Farrell fan, so can be rest assured that his sexy charm is in full flow in this.

Farrell is the linchpin in what first appears to be yet-another-London gangster story, complete with overblown cocky accents that even co-stars Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan are guilty of partaking in. However, Monahan delivers such a bewildering version of the genre that flits from one plot idea to another that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what London Boulevard is trying to achieve. Even though Winstone’s in it and it has shocking moments of brutal violence, it isn’t as straightforward as a Guy Ritchie flick. It does seem to swing from one extreme to another, from larger-than-life gangster parody, to serious social affairs drama, to touching English class love story the next. In this sense, and forever shifting its goalposts, London Boulevard can claim to be different from the run-of-the-mill gangster offerings.

In accent terms, Farrell misses the mark with his Irish lit still fighting to escape. But all can be forgiven, as his ex-con character called Mitchell is a remarkably refreshing change to his usual cheeky rogue ones. Think of Farrell in Minority Report, meaning business, slightly sinister and suave, and you’ve got the picture. In fact Mitchell is like a Carter in Get Carter, deadly serious about his intentions, but deeply frustrated at the obstacles put in his path as he tries to go straight after a stint in Pentonville Prison for GBH, but gets prevented from doing so by ruthless and unpredictable crime boss Gant (Winstone). It has to be one of Farrell’s most intriguing parts to date, allowing him to really stretch his talents, playing vulnerable one moment to shockingly violent the next, whilst still finding time to get the girl in a stylish, Clooney-esque fashion.

London Boulevard has an amazing cast, which is undoubtedly due to Monahan’s reputation, and the girl in question is not from Mitchell’s rough South London manor, but a reclusive British actress called Charlotte who’s being hounded by the paps in her own Holland Park home grounds, desperate to provoke a reaction to her crumbling marriage and estranged hubby. Mitchell comes to protect Charlotte, played by Keira Knightley, who needs him as much as he needs her to make a life change. Knightley gives a decent and fragile performance that must surely (and painfully) draw on real-life experiences with the media, but she doesn’t make quite the impact you’d expect, given the trailer and poster campaign, and it’s still not clear exactly why?

Indeed Monahan may well have adapted Ken Bruen’s noir crime novel of the same name, and done a pastiche of the classic Hollywood film Sunset Boulevard – hence the film’s title and inject of Hollywood glamour in Mitchell’s new suited-and-booted appearance, but in his excitement, he’s forgotten to piece together more of how Mitchell and Charlotte come to be. There are a lot of unexplained circumstances that just ‘are’ that add to the head-scratching at the end, including the confusing period in which the story’s meant to be set, not helped by the 60s’ soundtrack, or Marsan’s 70s’ TV cop throwback that makes him look like an extra from Life On Mars.

Monahan may well capture the essence and farce of London’s underground dealings and colourful participants, which Winstone agrees with – breezing through another gangster role and picking up an easy pay check, but we’re left with a bunch of rather odd characters that only resemble some sort of purpose when Mitchell is on the scene with them. The only character that seems to fit the setting and is credible is Ben Chaplin’s Billy, Mitchell’s low-life friend who gets him into more trouble every time. Some overly snappy cutting between scenes and situations further perpetuates the plot’s disjoined feeling, never fully allowing you to absorb that’s going on and being said, and possibly, resulting in you missing some important character quips.

That said it’s co-stars David Thewlis and Anna Friel who deserve the most credit for the film’s quirky entertainment value and real wit. Friel plays Mitchell’s wayward lush and gold-digger of a sister, Briony, but with such an erratic aplomb that it keeps you on your toes, and comic Sanjeev Bhaskar’s surprising performance as her love interest, Dr Sanji Raju, nicely compliments this. However, it’s Thewlis as Charlotte’s rather eccentric, dope-smoking and reclusive house manager/failed actor/failed producer Jordan who gets reawakened by Mitchell’s presence who delivers one of the best performances, as well as a series of classic one-liners, demonstrating Monahan’s talent. Without Thewlis or Farrell, this film would have died a death alongside its victims near the start. But Jordan is another example of an unexplained character presence at Charlotte’s house, just someone that the viewer must ‘except’ as being, like an enigma.

London Boulevard is certainly sexy, stylish and brutal, and Farrell makes an impressive serious leading man. But in his efforts to make Bruen’s story more of his own, Monahan seems to have missed a key ingredient in introducing some characters and situations: a sense of purpose to the narrative. In being slightly unconventional with the genre, and maybe having too many characters involved, the film is difficult to follow in parts, whilst pandering to the genre’s stereotypes in others. Monahan may have bitten off more than he could chew as a first film project, even if his odd assortment of cast will save his first effort at the box office, as it will ignite interest.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

Unstoppable – 4*

Forget the troublesome Pelham of 2009: Action guru Tony Scott and his muse Denzel Washington are firmly on the right tracks with this year’s adrenaline-fuelled thriller, Unstoppable, that really hits the mark, despite triggering an initial groan of yet another potential train-wreck of a movie on the cards.

After suppressing giggles from hearing that there’s an ‘unstoppable coaster’ charging down the tracks, with images of a cork mat having come loose from it’s coffee cup base springing to mind, the ‘coaster’ in question is another name for an unmanned runaway train, complete with 39 cars full of hazardous material to add to the thrills and spills. It’s up to Washington as veteran train engineer Frank Barnes and Chris Pine as rookie conductor Will Colson – on his first day on the job – to save part of Pennsylvania from certain disaster.

Unstoppable is a tour de force all of its own, allowed to gather speed within a simple and highly effective, no-frills plot. It’s also a truly believable one, helped in part by the story being based on actual events. What’s more electrifying is Scott has turned a hunk of metal into a living, breathing demon, with a terrifying life force of its own, gathering momentum and fury as it approaches the end of the track.

Although Unstoppable is effectively all about the action, Scott still allows time and space for us to really get to know our two heroes, whilst they chase the mechanical brute. Barnes and Colson from different generations learn to compromise like a father and son, revealing their differences and personal issues then resolving them, whilst simultaneously building a rocky friendship that will last a lifetime. It’s a real testosterone-fuelled buddy movie that sees Washington perfectly cast (or rather, the part moulded to him) as the weary old-timer, stubborn in practice, but happy to share his knowledge and wisdom, in contrast with Pine as the impatient ‘youngster’ who thinks he knows best.

In fact Pine is surprisingly appealing as an all-action hero in this as it marks an exciting new tangent in his career that could have been dominated by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, especially after a shocking dabble in romcom with the dreadful Blind Dating last year. Pine has the looks, the bulk and the intelligence to go far in this type of role, so here’s hoping he does more. And like art imitating life, imitating art, he has the perfect partner to learn from in Washington who literally hands over the controls to him in this film, giving him and the character he plays most of the glory.

The action is on the money, with just the right amount of terror, tragedy and pace to keep things moving along nicely, like a ticking time bomb, but without too much pomp and circumstance that leads to overkill in some action films from the emergency services. Still, Scott just can’t resist putting in a couple of car chases and screeching-tyre moments for good measure.

Unstoppable also manages to just about stay away from the ‘final farewells’ clichés, and even thought you stop to think ‘why didn’t they do that before’, events are actually remarkably realistic, as any developing situation would warrant a change of tactics, if the former didn’t work. What is a bit unbelievable is Barnes’ superhero leaps over carriages as he tries a manual way of slowing the Beast down. But this is Washington who can do no wrong – Pelham aside, so we want to absorb the absurd and go with the flow.

Rosario Dawson is excellent, too, as troubled train controller Connie Hooper, the voice of reason over the radio, battling trying to stop this thing, whilst juggling the idiotic moves made by the corporate suits in the boardroom in this male-dominated world. Naturally, she throws caution to the wind and sticks two fingers up at management to get the job done; it’s a real brains-verses-brawn, war of minds, the type of thing played out in many corporations worldwide, where blue collar verses white collar, so it strikes home for any audience who will relate to either role situation.

Unlike The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable is money well spent, so buy your ticket for a rollercoaster ride with confidence, as this is a Scott film worth paying to see on the biggest screen possible for full effect.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: The American – 3*

Don’t be fooled by the action sequences they squeeze out of the film for the trailer to try marketing this as an action-based crime thriller: it’s no Bourne. It is a part-foreign-language drama set in foreign lands – making it perfect London Film Festival fodder – that cleverly manages to straddle both art-house and mainstream categories because it has a touch of action and a Hollywood A Lister in it. To the cynically minded, The American feels like a video travel log, in some respect, as there’s very little plot, just some beautiful settings and George Clooney running around, like he’s doing a car advert, in addition to his Nespresso coffee ads.

And just to emphasise the point further, The American is a beautiful offering with beautiful people, looking beautiful in beautiful and idyllic settings. Therefore, who better to lead the beautiful brigade in such an exquisite-looking film than top smoulderer Clooney who plays a mysterious American hit man called Jack who’s hiding out in Italy, until he’s called to do one last job for an equally mysterious client.

What’s obvious is The American is the creation of a photographer-cum-debut-feature-director, Anton Corbijn, with a great eye for detail, as each frame is crafted to capture the best of its subject matter. It’s like the perfect vehicle for Clooney to brood in and melt a thousand hearts, whilst encouraging a surge in bookings to the romantic destinations it’s filmed in.

In cultivating the settings, where very little actually happens, Corbijn – perhaps intentionally, we don’t know – misses out some important character development from Martin Booth’s novel that would go to explain certain circumstances in the film. One such example is Jack’s obsession with butterflies. In the book he’s an artist who paints butterflies, rather than a landscape photographer, hence his passion for the delicate little creatures and reference to Madame Butterfly operatic music. That said with this detail still included in screenwriter Rowan Joffe’s adaptation, it makes for a powerfully striking and iconic ending that’s the most memorable point in the film.

There’s also a little Pretty Woman thing going on, Italian style, with Jack falling for the (naturally) stunning village prostitute, Clara, played by sexy Italian actress/singer/songwriter Violante Placido who spends a lot of the time missing her clothing, even when she’s not on her back working. Add another deadly beauty in the shapely form of Dutch actress Thekla Reute as his unlikely predator, and you have yet more visually attractive elements in the mix, whilst guaranteeing Corbijn’s European audience. There are some great performances from Paolo Bonacelli as a wise old priest with an unexplained but obviously colourful past, and the enigmatic Johan Leysen as Jack’s sinister minder who is beautifully lit in many of his scenes.

The end result is a watchable, if vacuously sumptuous and stylish portrait that puts Clooney firmly in the frame, but is unlikely to win him any Academy accolades as it lacks any real substance and thrills that you’d expect from a ‘thriller’. That said its beauty is undoubtedly captivating, as is its stars, even with very little for Clooney to actually do. The American acts as a prime example of stellar cinematography for any budding film-maker to study, and will be lapped up by Clooney fans who just can’t get enough of his broodingly handsome good looks in big-screen definition. It is the ultimate Clooney fest.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest – 3*

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy finally comes to a cinematic end, and the only thing worth knowing is whether Daniel Alfredson’s finale, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, does justice to the spellbinding novel in tying up the loose ends. It does, to a certain extent, providing a relatively engaging and much-needed justice server at the end, but mostly due to the powerhouse talent of Noomi Rapace as the ultimate survivor, Lisbeth Salander.

Screenwriter Ulf Ryberg doesn’t have an easy task as there is so much going on in the book that fitting it into 147 minutes was always going to be challenging. That said the film does take time to pick up pace, and this could be a factor of the amount of information that needs translating off the page. Ryberg appears to have got a little out of his depth in doing this, adding subplot after subplot that often doesn’t lead to anything substantial, in the vague hope that he is capturing the many elements of the brilliant book.

The story picks up where our fallen heroine Salander was found, severely wounded by a gunshot to the head, after tracking down her evil father and discovering a Neanderthal half-brother who is a brute of a killer machine who feels no pain and could give any Bond villain a run for his money. As ever, her guardian angel and ex-lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played by the poker-faced Michael Nyqvist, comes to the rescue in time. He then makes it his personal mission to reveal the real facts and clear Salander’s name in an explosive expose in his Millennium magazine. This film actually provides Nyqvist with the opportunity to get a little more daring, self-absorbed and crazed as character Blomkvist, but he still rests within the realms of that certain Swedish restraint, even though it places the newshound in an exciting restaurant shootout. Still, Nyqvist does do reliable, solid and protective rather well, enough for the ladies to continue swooning at his untraditional leading-man sex appeal.

One of the main reasons for Hornets’ Nest’s tardy start is the lack of Salander action. Admittedly, this is a little tricky as she is bedridden in hospital, only able to communicate to the outside world via a mobile hidden in her chocolate box. Our heroine’s current state hardly adds any excitement to the proceedings, and it’s up to the often dull and egotistical Blomkvist to keep our interest through wordy, TV-cop-show-like puzzles and reveals with the help of his editorial team. That said this is where one such subplot begins to develop, after his team starts resenting his story obsession over their safety, and there’s a mini mutiny on Blomkvist’s hands, but this fizzles out before it even starts.

Sadly, the film’s main selling point, Salander, doesn’t come into action until quite some time into the story, and as much as we’re rooting for her, which keeps our interest in the interim on the whole, there are points where it wanes, particularly the whole Dr Teleborian focus in trying to mount electronic evidence against him and the evil authorities he’s in league with. It’s only at the end when Salander comes to trial and faces her nemesis, cutting him down to size in the ultimate show of girl power (helped by Blomkvist’s cutthroat lawyer sister representing her), that things get truly thrilling. But this ending is merely what we’d come to expect from Rapace who finally gets her voice.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest is a necessary ending to a marvellous and meaty thriller that must give full credit for its best points to its lead, Noomi Rapace. Nyqvist as Blomkvist began life in the first film as an intriguing character, but has turned into a predictable, almost stereotypical one in the latter, even though there was scope to venture into some of his torment and daredevil spirit in getting the scoop out. Nevertheless, the subject matter is immense, and fans will appreciate how the crux of the tale has been sufficiently dealt with, even though it feels like a desperate attempt at combining a TV mini series into over two hours of cinema experience. It will be interesting to see how US director David Fincher and team treat the story, even though Rapace will be a tough act to follow, but Daniel Craig might just inject more life into Blomkvist.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Machete – 2*

There’s been an eager wait by fans for this film’s release, since it’s ‘fake’ trailer featured in Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse that starred its charismatic and craggy-faced lead, Danny Trejo, back in 2007. Now Machete in full form has finally arrived, having been conceived years before the former, and Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis’ latest Latino laud certainly does what the directors say; gives us a true Mexican hero (or three).

But there’s also an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as the same old format from the likes of Desperado is peddled out yet again, accumulating in the ultimate claret wipeout at the end. Even Trejo stays true to his previous character’s style, wearing his blade-carrying leather waistcoat over his muscular, tanned and tattooed skin as Machete, a legendary ex-Federale who’s framed and out for revenge for his brotherhood. It’s also hard to say if Rodriguez and Maniquis meant their film to be a pastiche as it pokes fun at times then takes itself too seriously at others.

That said Machete is like witnessing a hormonal juggernaut of seething resentment aimed at the usual suspect: the big bad USA – and we have to say, the whole border issue is getting a tad tired in such films when there are bigger socio-political, drug-related issues now affecting the region that could have made a better plot.

But this is not Traffic, and in the directors’ defence, what they deliver is the revolutionary, comic-book-style fantasy of putting wrongs to rights: It’s what Rodriguez’s films are all about; guns, gadgets, fire power, beautiful Latinas, religious symbolism and the token drug lord. So, if this is your bag, you’ll certainly not be disappointed with this latest bloodbath set on the Mexican border with Texas. And any excused to bash the evil workings of the US of A seems to get the audience on side in a heartbeat. These factors are the key draw of Rodriguez’s films, along with passionate-cum-deadly panto characters to love or hate.

What’s also in Machete’s favour is a highly impressive cast to help its box office case in Robert De Niro as ruthless and slippery Senator John McLaughlin, Jessica Alba as stunning immigrations officer Sartana Rivera, Steven Seagal as Mexican drug kingpin Torrez, Michelle Rodriguez as (yet another) hard-nut revolutionary called Luz, Jeff Fahey as ruthless businessman Booth, Cheech Marin as gun-wielding Padre Cortez, and Don Johnson as twisted border vigilante Von Jackson. Oh, and Lindsay Lohan plays Booth’s floozy daughter, turned vengeful nun – a thrilling addition to the line-up. Each character brings their own tour de force to the film, with some stylish framing in parts. However, this is also Machete’s dilemma, as it feels unevenly paced and bitty at times, as though the directors have got a bit carried away in trying to impress us with the characters, to the detriment of any intriguing plot.

Trejo needs no coaching in how to play bad effortlessly, having spent some of his life in jail for violence. What’s good to see this time is genuine warmth to his latest character that Trejo expertly projects in few words. Machete the anti-hero is the ultimate dichotomy, both trustworthy and untrustworthy, gentle and violent etc. Trejo has the ominous screen presence to pull it off; complete with a fascinating face you could spend hours navigating.

Fahey is surprisingly good as the villain of the piece, even upstaging the likes of De Niro and Seagal (the latter making little impact, to be honest). Johnson makes an astonishing transformation as the bigoted Von Jackson, possibly finding a new ‘bad guy’ niche in his career? Indeed this film is all about praising the B-movie Edam in large gooey dollops, and nothing should be taken too literally. What is controversial is some of the violence against women, like the shooting of a pregnant woman on the border, or Booth’s unhealthy interest in his daughter that some may take umbrage to, regressing the progress made in female film portrayal. Nevertheless, the fighting women in the film (Sartana and Luz) give as good as they get, so there is some sort of off-set at least.

Machete is a distinctive Rodriguez’s trademark, albeit not as imaginative as first expected, but entertaining all the same, with a cast worth watching. It does suffer from two-dimensionality and stereotypical clangers that could have been avoided with a little more thought, but it definitely bangs the controversial gong with its glorified violence and one scene with a hospital escape via human intestines. There are also some lines crimes against film-making that depending on your mood, will have you viewing co-writer Rodriguez as a jest genius or a parody pariah. Should Machete have stayed as an iconic Grindhouse trailer? Only Rodriguez fans can really judge, or really care. The rest of the audience will enjoy the big-name stars hamming it up in style.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: Let Me In -4*

It’s very easy to become a film snob about any US remake of a recent and internationally acclaimed foreign-language film. But if the material it’s based on is of a high calibre, then the film-makers are already off to a flying start. Such is the case with Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’s take on Ajvide Lindqvist’s exceptional and best-selling Swedish novel, Let The Right One In. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the original 2008 Swedish screen adaptation of the novel’s same name, then Reeves’s version, shortened to Let Me In, is a triumph all on its own – minus the subtitles.

Let Me In may be a film about a vampire, but it’s real concept is that of a tender coming-of-age tale of two, seemingly, alienated ‘children’. It gently exploits that all too familiar feeling of being the outsider at school and in the local community of your peers to full haunting effect. This, coupled with the supernatural element, is what gives the film its offbeat and stirring atmosphere. That said the Swedish film was more successful at cultivating this, wisely leaving the human sacrificing punchline until much latter on in the plot. Reeves’s version seems to deal all its cards at once, opting to reveal why the strange new girl-on-the-block’s father kills at the very start of their arrival, and taking away a lot of the first film’s mystery.

However, in the US film’s favour, it adds a climatic and exhilarating car crash scene from the rear passenger’s point of view that’s not in the original, and although it’s peppered with police action, like an episode from Hills Street Blues, it also does away with the weirdly-placed cat attack and weakly developed community vigilante episode of the Swedish version. In hindsight, having a detective on the trail to make the bloody bathroom discovery makes more sense. Thankfully, Reeves’s film doesn’t fall victim to titillating blood-sucking attacks, although his tunnel scene seems a little too sci-fi and stylised. The look of the film is near identical, a kind of magical, snowy fairyland with a sinister undercurrent. But snow in New Mexico sounds like a contradiction in terms.

What makes the US remake instantly engaging is Reeves’s casting of the right ones in the leads, even managing to improve on the astounding performances in the original. Kick-Ass star Chloé Grace Moretz who exploded onto the scene in the comic book adaptation with a tirade of abuse and attitude is new girl Abby with a nocturnal secret. Moretz captures the imagination completely as the seemingly fragile and untalkative young soul who walks barefoot through the snow, but has the wisdom of someone much older. Kodi Smit-McPhee, the odd-looking kid from grim post-Apocalyptic drama The Road (with Viggo Mortensen), is perfectly cast as social outcast Owen, balancing the right amount of angst, vulnerability and charm to depict a teen in torment. He even looks the part as a kid with the world on his shoulders, with only one friend who seems to get him – Abby.

This is where the US film ventures more into controversial territory. The original ‘implied’ elements of paedophilia, whereas Reeves confronts this aspect of Lindqvist’s story, but without overstepping the mark. Abby gently caresses her father’s face (played by the ever remarkable Richard Jenkins) that implies more than just daughterly affection. There is also the issue of Abby’s grooming of Owen to be her next companion/guardian that seems innocent at first, but considering who and how old Abby really is, is slightly disconcerting to say the least, luring this impressionable child away from his home life. However, none of these episodes are depicted in bad taste as they are woven into the whole child-cum-adult ritual of teen experimentation, whilst growing up.

Let Me In is a genuinely solid remake that produces some consistent, engaging and mature performances from its young leads, and rekindles the enthusiasm you first felt for the original film. It’s also very topical, addressing not only the vampire element that seems to be the obsession in film and on TV at present (True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight etc), but also the subject of bullying. Ironically, the age group it portrays will not be able to see it, but as a certificate 15, it will not be missed by all those of school age and blightened by this issue. Let’s hope the draw of Chloé Grace Moretz can do it justice at the box office because it deserves its chance of success.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

Due Date – 3*

A new buddy comedy from The Hangover maestro Todd Phillips sounds like one to watch, especially with the former hit’s cuddly star Zach Galifianakis in the frame again. And it is, in many respects, because this safe bet for Phillips dishes out the genre’s formulaic mix of chaotic sketches, emotionally revealing moments and morals aplenty.

It also delivers great chemistry from its leads, Robert Downey Jr. and Galifianakis as unlikely travel companions with a goal to get from A to B with the least amount of trauma possible. Well, a little bit of collateral damage is vital to maketh the movie. But much as this has been described as the poorer man’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles (substitute Thanksgiving for an imminent birth, Steve Martin for Downey Jr, and John Candy for Galifianakis), Due Date is still an entertaining and contemporary version with enough heart and commendable acting to last its distance.

Downey Jr is highly-strung architect Peter who’s trying to get home to his heavily pregnant wife, Sarah (played in a fleeting few scenes by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang co-star Michelle Monaghan), who is about to go into labour at any moment. Unfortunately, due to Peter’s temper and one particularly provocative passenger called Ethan (Galifianakis), the pair joins the ‘no-fly’ club, and have to resort to putting up with each other’s company in a car (initially), driving across country to L.A. in the nick of time.

The laughs are uneven, and there are the obvious ‘eyes-roll-to-the-ceiling’ clichés. But on the whole, the Downey Jr-Galifianakis bromance works an absolute treat, as they each play their own brand of quirky insanity off one another in the film, with both having their moments to play ‘deadpan’ then ‘loopy’ at different stages throughout.

Galifianakis easily slots into his imbecile man-child role again, but with a camp little mince and a trophy dog this time – Ethan’s sexuality is never fully revealed, though he’s going to Hollywood to become an actor; go figure. Downey Jr is both the instigator and the mirror for all goings-on in a role that seems practically effortless for such a versatile actor. It’s undoubtedly the Downey Jr-Galifianakis pairing that holds the attention until the very end; the trouble is the ending disappointingly fizzles out, like a duff Bonfire Night rocket, prompting a ‘that it?’ response when the end credits roll.

Is it enough to say this type of film is about the leads’ chemistry, and not the fairly obvious plot line? It could be argued, yes it is, but with ‘seen-that-a-zillion-times-before’ déjà vu moments, like getting in trouble with the law and going on the run in a clapped-out vehicle, it could be argued that Phillips got lazy and unimaginative, or on the other hand, he simply delivers what we’re eagerly expecting. The bodily functions scene is amusing but tired, as are a few other scenarios. But the biggest and unexpected laughs come from a Peter moment with a brat kid of the local drug dealer (as ever, brilliantly depicted by Juliette Lewis), and the ‘drinking Dad’ car discussion, said in all frankness that is hilarious – Jamie Foxx plays a fairly unremarkable cameo, here, but makes for an injection of tasty eye candy.

Due Date is not quite fully hatched, and could have done with a little longer incubation period and character development to enhance some of the potentially intriguing scenarios. What’s also shameful on Phillips’s part is all the great comedy talent (Lewis, Foxx, Monaghan and Danny McBride) that could have been put to better use. That said Due Date offers a fascinating screen partnership in Downey Jr and Galifianakis, making up for any lack of originality in plot. It certainly isn’t The Hangover, but it’s like the mild hangover from The Hangover after-party success, and an enjoyable stopgap until the sequel arrives next year.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: Neds – 4*

Scottish Actor/writer/director Peter Mullan (The Magdalene Sisters, Orphans) may well have struck gold with his first internationally marketable feature, Neds – even though its broad Glaswegian dialect takes some getting used to, and resulted in subtitles at its world premiere in Toronto. What Mullan gets right every time that translates, regardless of language, is his casting and his actors’ performances, be that down to ‘pot luck’ as he admitted at the BFI London Film Festival, or not. Mullan has a magic touch for gritty realism, and Neds is no exception.

Mullan claims Neds is a ‘personal but not autobiographical’ coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Glasgow, where gang violence is rife, and being born into an environment without prospects is like a heavy chain around any bright young kid’s neck. Neds may not be autobiographical, but it does have some obvious personal investment, that’s for sure, to allow for some brilliant improv and direction. Mullan plays a violent and sadistic drunk, so we can only guess whom his character is based on, although he remained guarded when asked.

Neds that stands for ‘Non-Educated Delinquents’, or ‘chavs’ to others, plays out like a powerful and engaging dichotomy set in a claustrophobic pressure-cooker environment: violent and tender; terrifying and humorous. This is interesting, considering Mullan’s story was originally about violent knife crime – as poignant today as back then, but became an emotional journey about adolescence and growing up. The change in direction allows Mullan some leeway to inject humour through its cheeky and sardonic repertoire and fun music score that accompanies the brutal fight scenes (like Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’). Its parallels with This Is England will not be lost – an easily influenced boy falling in with the wrong crowd, but it’s a standalone contender destined for box office success all the same.

The story follows studious and confident, working-class John McGill from the start of a glowing academic career at secondary school, to his derailment by the class and lifestyle he’s born into, after experiencing social discrimination, as he ventures deep into knife-wielding gangland. This may seem like classic Brit social realist film-making, or kitchen-sink drama from its synopsis – and in some respects it is with its bunch of disillusioned young men. But its lead character still manages to cling onto a haunting humanity, played by newcomer and fellow Scot Conor McCarron, making you root for him until the bitter end.

McCarron gives the kind of performance you’d expect from a seasoned pro, never once missing a beat opposite Mullan in some of the most harrowing scenes of the film. McCarron as McGill displays both baby-faced vulnerability and menacing psychosis, with one shocking moment being his graveyard revenge on a boy who threatened him years earlier on a school crossing. We empathise with his spiralling anger and frustration and his limited life choices, given his near-hopeless surroundings, signalling Mullan’s expert character development.

Neds is another human story full of charisma, guts and determination to push dividing social issues to the fore on screen. Its compassion is its driving point and the key to its success, reflecting the real-life passion and charm of its creator, Mullan.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

Jackass (3D) – 3*

Toilet humour, eye-watering blows to the never-regions and Evel Knievel-style stunts are on the Jackass (3D) menu in this film. But as the title suggests, what you also expect, even before head prankster Johnny Knoxville’s grand announcement at the start, is all of the above in glorious, gut-wrenching 3D. Let’s face it; that’s the key selling point, this time around.

Halloween may have just been, but there’s a sense of having been tricked, rather than treated, as the 3D is virtually not existent. It feels like a last ditch attempt at squeezing a little more cash out of (you) the franchise, before the boys get a little long in the tooth and retire. In fact, never mind Wee Man and co, Knoxville is looking older and alarmingly gaunter in this film – distinguished grey aside, so you can’t help wincing when he’s headbutted by a disgruntled buffalo, or bitten on the behind by a dog. The whole team still appear to enjoy the day job, but their once youthful enthusiasm and insanity is waning with every new challenge set. Even serious nutter Steve-O seems a little more reserved than usual and lacking his usual spirit.

Like all Jackass stunts, there are those that are funny, and others not. The funniest thing is the high-five moments and a spot of dentistry, courtesy of a Lamborghini. The unfunniest is an exploding ‘butt volcano’ in the midst of the train set, plus supposed 3D bodily functions from the point of view of one of the team’s manhood. It’s hard to tell whether this was meant to be in 3D, or just poor-quality home-movie video. Whatever; it’s just not funny, guys.

The main problem with jumping on the 3D bandwagon is a lot of the stunts require wide shots to establish and see exactly what’s going on. Sadly, 3D just isn’t doesn’t work in this respect. Plus with a whole team of behind-the-scenes expects on tap, you’d expect a little more thought to have gone into filming from angles that really make the 3D work, rather than seeing wrenching cameramen trying to get their own five-minutes of fame.

The grand finale seems to be the only true 3D aspect of the whole charade, when the team do slo-mo action dives around a set, whilst being obliterated (something that should have happened a long time ago, in our humble opinion). Oh, and apart from Chris Pontius’s nauseating, full-frontal exhibitionism, there are flying rubber dildos in 3D to laugh at (or not). There just seems to be very little that’s new or inventive for a proper 3D cinema experience, and that’s our main gripe.

For Jackass fans, it’s great to see the boys back in town, plus a cameo appearance from Beavis and Butt-head – who also sell the promise of a 3D experience at the start. But don’t expect anything groundbreaking in the 3D stakes, as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

3/5 stars

By L G-K