A Good Day to Die Hard (2013, John Moore)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

John McClane heads to Moscow when his son is arrested and thrown into prison…

Source material: This is the first Die Hard film that isn’t based on pre-existing material. Initially, the movie was going to be called Die Hard 24/7 and there were rumours it was to be a crossover with TV show 24. John McClane would have teamed up with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Surely that would have been more entertaining than what we ended up with…

John McClane: He’s still a cop in New York and still separated from ex-wife Holly. Hearing that his son is in trouble, John flies to Moscow, where everyone is either a criminal or a moron and the authorities show no interest in terrorists running amok. He makes idiotic quips as he blithely ignores huge destruction and untold deaths, and for the first time the character seems uncaring and arrogant. Bruce Willis gives the most dour, lifeless and bored performance of his career. Look into the actor’s eyes and you can see him daydreaming about the fee.

Regulars:
* Jack Gennero (Jai Courtney) is John McClane’s 30-ish son, who was known as John Jnr when we saw him as a small boy in the original Die Hard. Like his mother in that film and his sister in Die Hard 4.0, the character doesn’t want to use John’s surname; father and son also haven’t spoken for a few years, which explains why John is unaware that Jack is now a CIA operative working in Russia. But when news reaches New York that Jack has been imprisoned, John flies over to see what’s what… For a while, actor Jai Courtney seemed to be specialising in turgid franchise films: he’s also in Terminator Genisys and Suicide Squad. And he’s terrible here, turning a character we should care about into a petulant brat. Why the CIA would ever trust this whiny, quick-to-tantrum man-child with daddy issues is difficult to fathom.
* John’s daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), returns from the previous film for a cameo.

Villain: There’s a cack-handed plot about a Russian billionaire called Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has a secret file that could incriminate corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), so Chagarin’s henchman Aik (Radivoje Bukvić) breaks Komarov out of prison in order to get the file. If you manage to pay attention until the third act, you discover that the file never existed and Komarov is the real bad guy. Or something. Also involved in the story is Komarov’s daughter, Irina (Yulia Snigir), who’s there simply to provide a shot for the trailer when she unzips her motorcycle leathers to reveal her underwear.

Music: The score by Marco Beltrami is actually not that bad. It’s busy and powerful and steals the interest during many of the film’s 376 action scenes.

Review: A poster for this film contained the strapline ‘Yippie ki-yay, Mother Russia’. Not one single element in the movie itself even approaches that level of smartness or self-awareness. Watching A Good Day to Die Hard is a truly dreadful, depressing experience. It seems to want to be a Bourne film: urgent, visceral action; clipped, terse dialogue scenes; and driving incidental music. But it lacks the intelligence, panache and interesting characters that made those early Bourne adventures so engaging, and instead comes off more like a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal flick. There *is* a plot – we know this because there’s one scene after 55 minutes where Jack explains it to John. There’s also a plot twist – late on, one character kills another and we’re meant to be impressed by the script’s Usual Suspects-esque sleight of hand. However, the film is directed by John Moore (who’d previously made the appalling remake of The Omen). He’s not interested in wit or character development or depth or subtext or suspense. He prefers computer-game carnage carried off without any style or story logic or consequence. “It’s going to be loud,” smirks one of the bland villains just before the first of several thousand explosions – it’s also going to be sensationally dull. This is a crass, classless, joyless, artless sequel and the worst film ever made that comes from an otherwise decent series.

One… oh, I don’t know… thing that blows up out of 10

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The Wicker Tree (2011, Robin Hardy)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists!

Two young Americans travel to Scotland intent on spreading the word of Jesus. However, they soon fall in with the residents of a strange town…

How to classify this? Is it a sequel to the 1973 film The Wicker Man? Well, a case could be made for that. Christopher Lee has a tiny cameo, possibly as Lord Summerisle, so perhaps this is The Wicker Man: The Next Generation. Or is it a remake? It’s certainly a very similar storyline – the same kind of things happen to the same kind of people. Perhaps we should consider it a companion piece: another take on the same ideas. It’s also an adaptation of director Robin Hardy’s novel Cowboys for Christ (which itself was based on an earlier version of the film script after an attempt at making it fell through). But however we define it, The Wicker Tree is a truly mediocre movie.

It tells the story of American couple Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett). She’s a successful country-and-western singer; he’s her boyfriend. They’re both young, clean-cut, devout Christians who are waiting until they marry before having sex. Beth is also turning her back on her singing career to spend two years “bringing God’s message to the lost people of Scotland.” That’s right: two aw-shucks Americans are coming to do missionary work on the council estates of Glasgow. Not too surprisingly, they just get doors slammed in their faces.

At their lowest ebb, Beth and Steve then meet local landowners Sir Lachlan (Graham McTavish) and Delia Morrison (Jacqueline Leonard). The Morrisons clearly have nefarious plans, and also tease the couple about their faith, pointing out contradictions and belittling Jesus. But despite this, Beth and Steve accept their hospitality. Meanwhile, we viewers learn that Sir Lachlan runs the local nuclear power plant. (Of course he does.) There was an accident there a decade earlier and now the whole village is infertile.

A huge problem with this story is that – unlike Beth and Steve’s equivalent in The Wicker Man, Sgt Howie – the two lead characters are just so dim. The script does them no favours, presenting them as dippy, childlike, naïve characters who you never feel any sympathy for, but the performances are nothing to write home to Texas about either. The Scottish characters are also burdened with bizarre, antiquated attitudes towards Americans, as if they’re a newly discovered race of people and not the globe’s most dominant culture.

Another issue is the old-fashioned-ness of the plot. Is it really plausible that a town on the Scottish Borders in 2011 could be entirely infertile and yet no one else has noticed? This isn’t an isolated island community like in The Wicker Man. There’s probably a Little Chef just round the corner. At least someone has spotted the town’s paganism: a copper called Orlando has been sent to the area to do some rooting around. But he gets distracted by a local woman called Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks, using a Scottish accent that needs subtitling at one point) who has sex with him multiple times to wear him out.

Anyway, various weird things happen to Beth and Steve. He’s spooked when a middle-aged woman sings a suggestive song in the pub; she’s nearly drugged by the Morrisons’ butler. We also get Christopher Lee green-screened into a 72-second flashback that tries to explain why Sir Lachlan is practising paganism. (Lee was originally going to play Lachlan, with Joan Collins as his wife, but then injured himself on the set of another film and had to drop out.)

When Beth learns that Steve’s been unfaithful – he couldn’t resist himself after seeing Lolly naked in a river – she ain’t happy. But worse is to come once we hit May Day. Steve is lured to a remote castle and then… torn to pieces and eaten by the townsfolk, who are now apparently cannibals. Meanwhile, Beth has been tricked into being the May Queen for the festivities and is lured towards a giant wicker tree. Lachlan plans to sacrifice her to the gods, hoping it will cure the community of its infertility. But when she figures out what’s going on, Beth pushes him into the tree and sets it on fire – perhaps the film’s one genuinely smart surprise. (Her victory doesn’t last long. She’s soon caught and killed by the locals, who are all dressed like post-apocalyptic zombies for some reason.)

This movie beggars belief. The dialogue is mostly either just laughable or ear-scrappingly off-key. The tone shifts all over the place, from po-faced philosophy to high comedy. The acting is extremely variable, ranging from doing-their-best (McTavish, Leonard, Clive Russell) to actually-not-good-enough. Some crummy visual effects and that’ll-do cinematography only add to the feeling that the film was made with precisely zero passion behind it. It’s an awful piece of work.

One stuffed cat out of 10

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007, The Brothers Strause)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists. Not that it really matters with garbage like this one.

A hybrid of a predator and an alien crash-lands in modern-day America…

The cast: A dreadful collection of wooden, daytime-soap performances. It’s not long before you’re rooting for the monsters. The only notable actor is Reiko Aylesworth (24, Lost, my sexual fantasies). She plays Kelly O’Brien, a soldier who’s really picked the wrong weekend to visit home. There were plans to get Adam Baldwin to reprise his Predator 2 role of army guy Garber, but a new character was created instead.

The best bit: There isn’t one.

Crossover: The previous film had featured the head of Weyland Industries, so this one gives us a coda scene with a character called Miss Yutani. (Weyland-Yutani is the name of the all-powerful conglomerate in the original Alien movies.) At one point a character says, “Get to the chopper!” – a reference to Predator’s most famous line of dialogue.

Alternative version: Turns out, the DVD I watched *is* an alternative version, with seven extra minutes compared to the theatrical cut. Haven’t I suffered enough?!

Review: This staggeringly boring mess mines new depths of storytelling ineptitude. Thankfully it’s so badly lit you often can’t tell what’s happening.

One pizza box out of 10

Next time: The Predator series gets its Aliens…

Dracula Reborn (2015, Attila Luca)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day. After a brief sequence in Vancouver, the ‘action’ switches to Paris, then Cluj-Napoca in Romania and the Carpathian Mountains.

Faithful to the novel? Not especially. The world-famous Drakula [sic] cult has been around for a very long time, and is now being blamed for numerous missing-person cases. A disgraced, vampire-obsessed journalist called Hannah (Tina Balthazar) decides to investigate, so travels to Paris and assembles a small team of helpers. Meanwhile, a bald vampire stalks them and starts to kill them. When it comes to finding Dracula’s original castle, the team research in a library and read up on Vlad the Impaler; then a bizarre plot twist leads them to online snuff movies. (Around now, I stopped trying to keep up with what was happening.)

Best performance: Michael Maricondi is relatively watchable as the nerdy Nate. But that’s not saying much.

Best bit: The incidental music’s not too shabby.

Review: Not to be confused with the 2012 film of the same name, this was originally called Dracula XO before a rebranding for the UK DVD release. It is a diabolically dreadful waste of time. I’ve never seen The Room – the 2003 film that’s been called the Citizen Kane of bad movies – but surely this can’t be far off matching its awfulness. The cast are bad enough: a thoroughly rotten collection of actors who can barely speak let alone act. (Most clearly don’t have English as their first language, and sadly put all the emPHAsis on the wrong syllABLE.) But the storytelling – vague, obscure, perfunctory – is even worse. It’s slow, confused and amateurish.

One news report out of 10

Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest (2008, Michael Feifer)

bram-stokers-draculas-guest

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting? The Victorian era. In London, the English countryside, Transylvania, France and ‘Eastern Europe’.

Faithful to the novel? Dracula’s Guest is a short story by Bram Stoker, published by his widow in 1914. It seems to have been the original opening chapter of his novel Dracula, but was cut by the publisher because the book was too long. Its unnamed protagonist (assumed to be Jonathan Harker) travels across Europe and has a worrying encounter with some kind of werewolf… This film is a very, very, very loose adaptation, which makes the incalculably illogical decision to name the lead character… Bram Stoker. Like Harker, he’s a London lawyer; but like the real-life Stoker, he’s Irish. A mysterious foreigner called Count Dracula (who has no problem sitting in sunlight) employs the fictional Bram to help purchase a house on Regent Street. Meanwhile, Bram is courting a young woman called Elizabeth Murray, whose father is unhappy with their relationship. Sick of her dad’s interference, Elizabeth runs away and bumps into Dracula at the train station – he kidnaps her, takes her back to Transylvania with him, and rapes her (bye-bye, subtext!). When Bram hears what’s happened, he travels to Castle Dracula to rescue her – on the way, he has several spooky encounters, including a nighttime meeting with a quartet of Brides. Bram finally confronts Dracula, but can’t defeat him. Luckily, Elizabeth’s dad then shows up and – because he’s apparently a vampire hunter! – easily kills the count.

Best performance: She can’t act, but at least Kelsey McCann (Elizabeth) is pretty.

Best moment: As part of its start-up sequence, the DVD played a trailer for a low-budget zombie/Western movie called Undead or Alive. It had bags more wit, energy and fun than the film I then watched.

Review: Fuck a duck. This is genuinely one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. A pathetic, boring, bland, badly thought-out, badly paced script of clichés has been given to a uniformly dreadful cast who trot out some atrocious English and Irish accents. (Helpfully, a bad sound mix means you sometimes struggle to hear them. It seems the film’s budget didn’t stretch to ADR.) Even more annoyingly, it’s all so awfully directed. The washed-out cinematography is irritating enough, but the laughably inept framing and sloppy editing mean every scene trundles along with no momentum or style or drama.

One fencing duel out of 10

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Chewbacca is keen to get home to his family in time for Life Day, but he and Han Solo are delayed by an encounter with Imperial forces …

WHICH VERSION? This 97-minute TV movie was shown on CBS on 17 November 1978. For this review, I watched it on YouTube. The cartoon segment had been removed for copyright reasons, but someone else has helpfully uploaded that separately.

GOOD GUYS

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) wants to get home to Kashyyk because it’s Life Day, an important date in the Wookie calendar. However, he and Han Solo come under attack from some stock footage from the first film, which delays their journey. Chewy finally arrives just in time to save his son, Lumpy, from a Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper gives out a Wilhelm Scream as he falls to his death.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is uncharacteristically sentimental about Life Day, though he clearly knows Chewy’s family well – they greet each other like old friends.

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is tinkering on his space ship with R2-D2 when Chewbacca’s family get in touch and tell him Chewy’s gone missing. He turns up again at the end for the Life Day celebrations.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is hanging out with C-3PO when they try to get in contact with Han. She has a vomit-churning speech at the end, praising the qualities of Life Day, then sings a song to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) interprets for Leia when she talks to the Wookies.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) doesn’t get much to do.

* We meet Chewbacca’s family – wife Malla (Mickey Morton), father Itchy (Paul Gale) and son Lumpy (Patty Maloney). When he fails to show up for Life Day, they get worried and ask Luke for help. Soon some Stormtroopers and an Imperial officer arrive, and search the house.

* Saun Dann (Art Carney) is a human trader. When helping the Wookies, he has to talk in code in case he’s overheard by an Imperial officer (“…she’s done it by hand… solo…”). He brings a device to the Wookies’ home that enables Itchy to watch music videos; they later use it to distract an Imperial officer with, um, a performance from Jefferson Starship.

* Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) is a camp, four-armed TV chef. No, seriously. Korman also plays a malfunctioning robot in an instruction video and Krelman, an odd customer in a bar who drinks through a hole in the top of his head.

* A hologram (Diahann Carroll) appears in a sequence that looks like a 1970s Top of the Pops when Itchy uses Saun’s virtual-reality headset.

* Ackmena (Bea Arthur) is a bar owner on Tatooine – it’s presumably meant to be the same bar as seen in Star Wars. It certainly has the same jazz band. When a curfew is called in Mos Eisley, she tries to close early but her alien punters won’t listen. So she gives everyone one more drink… then sings a song that sounds like something from Bugsy Malone.

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears in a short clip from Star Wars.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) appears briefly in reused footage from the first movie and in a cartoon.

* Boba Fett (Don Francks) debuts in the Star Wars series, 18 months before he appeared in a cinema movie. The character features in a cartoon sequence that Lumpy watches on a vid-screen… Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-land on a planet called Panna, where they encounter Fett. He initially appears friendly, but after a virus affects Han and Luke, we see Fett contact ally Darth Vader. The episode features some appalling animation with terrible likenesses of the characters.

* Chief Bast (Leslie Schofield) appears in the footage from the first movie. How he survived his apparent death when the Death Star was blown up is not addressed.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Aside from shots stolen from Star Wars, there aren’t any.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Erm… Nope.

MUSIC: There’s an incidental score by Ian Fraser, and as mentioned a few songs.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: The Holiday Special has never been released on home video. I first saw it about 15 years ago on a pirated VHS. Like a lot of copies doing the rounds, it was an off-air recording of the show’s 1978 transmission complete with adverts.

REVIEW: Star Wars shot on videotape: it looks like Blake’s 7. But that’s far, far away from being its worst problem. After a brief opening scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca, just to remind you that movie characters are in this, there are lengthy scenes of Wookies growling at each other. Ten minutes in, there’s a sequence where one of them gleefully watches holograms dance around for what feels like eternity; later, there’s a spoof of cookery shows, some music videos and a docusoap set on Tatooine. The main storyline – Han and Chewy going missing – is routinely forgotten about in favour of this truly bizarre variety-show format. It’s beyond twee. Beyond misjudged. Beyond woeful. The actors whose faces can be seen look embarrassed. But it’s hard to take your eyes off its sheer unspeakable awfulness.

One tree of life out of 10

Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

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The wife of the French ambassador comes to see him in London and shags around…

What’s it spoofing? The Emmanuelle series of erotic films. So far there’d been Emmanuelle (1974), Emmanuelle 2 (1975) and Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977); another four followed after this spoof. The Carry On team changed the spelling to avoid legal issues. Also influential, one assumes, were the sex-comedy series Confessions of a… (1974-1977) and Adventures of a… (1976-1978).

Funniest moment: Leyland asks hard-of-hearing footman Richmond, “You for coffee?” He replies, “No, thanks. I’m staying here.”

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (26) stays loyal to the series through thick and increasingly thin. He plays Emile Prevert, the French ambassador to the UK. After a parachuting accident, he can no longer adequately pleasure his wife, so she spends her days seeking thrills elsewhere. This was the actor’s final Carry On appearance – he died on 15 April 1988.

* Joan Sims (24) plays Mrs Dangle, the household’s cook. This was similarly Sims’s last Carry On. She died on 27 June 2001.

* Peter Butterworth (16) plays Richmond, the ancient footman. Emmannuelle is also Butterworth’s final work on the series – he died on 16 January 1979, just two months after this film opened.

* Kenneth Connor (17) plays saucy chauffeur Leyland. Again, this is Connor’s Carry On swansong – he died on 28 November 1993.

* The producers had hoped Barbara Windsor would play four distinct roles – each of the women featured in three fantasy flashback scenes, as well as a nurse. Depending on which source you favour, however, either the filming dates clashed with an overseas holiday or Windsor refused to do the film because she thought it was pornographic.

Notable others:

* Suzanne Danielle is the film’s lead – the sex-mad, inhibition-light, worry-free Emmannuelle Prevert. She’s not awful, but it’s a pathetically written role. Her character in Cannon & Ball’s 1982 film The Boys in Blue isn’t much better. No wonder she gave up acting and married a golfer.

* Larry Dann (who’d also been in Carry On Teacher, Carry On Behind and Carry On England) plays Theodore Valentine, a shy guy who has a quickie with Emmannuelle then develops an obsession with her.

* Jack Douglas refrains from any twitching to play the Preverts’ butler, Lyons.

* Beryl Reid plays Theodore’s fussy mother.

* Bruce Boa appears as the US ambassador. In the actor’s near future were turns in Fawlty Towers (“Would you make me a Waldorf Salad?”), The Empire Strikes Back and Octopussy.

* Joan Benham from Upstairs, Downstairs cameos as a woman at a dinner party.

* Steve Plytas – who three years earlier had played drunk chef Kurt in Fawlty Towers (“But he didn’t have Manuel as a model, eh?”) – is an Arabian party guest.

* Claire Davenport plays the large lady Leyland picks up in a pub. Davenport is yet another Fawlty Towers alumnus: she’d been in the episode The Germans in 1975 (“He means *the drill* hasn’t started yet.”).

Top totty: Tricia Newby plays a nurse who gets her tits out in order to excite Kenneth Williams’s libido. The actress also had to flash them in Carry On England.

Kenneth Williams says: “Gerald Thomas [director] gave me lunch. He talked to me about the Carry On Emmannuelle script; it sounds pretty dirty. ‘We really miss old Sid James,’ he said, ‘he was cuddly & warm’ (you could have fooled me) ‘and there are so few like him.’ Then he saw Jimmy Tarbuck at another table and said ‘He’d got that quality!’ & I said ‘Yes! he is cuddly & warm & I think he’s smashing…’” – Monday 19 December 1977 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p553)

“Read the revised Carry On script. If anything, it’s worse than before & the dialogue clumsy, inept and not a good joke anywhere. Peter [Eade, his agent] said ‘They are willing to pay you six thousand but if you want a car they will dock it from your salary.’ I said no thanks, and told him ‘Better settle for 5,750 and have them do the car at their expense.’ I’m not having my money whittled away in such an unforeseeable fashion.” – Thursday 30 March 1978 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p557)

Review: This movie was made in four weeks – four weeks! – and it really shows. It’s a bizarre, witless, unpleasant, aimless folly. And it’s strangely unerotic. Sex is suggested or off-screen, while there’s no more nudity than any of the previous few Carry Ons. (If seeing Kenneths Connor and Williams is states of undress is your thing, though, then this is the film for you.) The big change is that characters talk openly about wanting or having sex. Innocence has become in-your-face. Innuendo has become in-your-end-oh! It’s pathetic. The best thing about the whole enterprise might be the jaunty, Bee Gees-style theme song.

One Concorde out of 10

Carry On Laughing (ITV, 4 January to 7 December 1975)

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A 13-episode sitcom, shown in two batches in 1975. There’s a pool of recurring actors, but each episode is a different setting…

What’s it spoofing? A whole host of historical eras, styles and fictions – The Prisoner of Zenda (a 1894 novel by Anthony Hope Hawkins), the English Civil War, Queen Elizabeth I, the Norman Conquest, Lord Peter Wimsey (who appeared from 1923 onwards in the stories of Dorothy L Sayers), Upstairs Downstairs (1971-1975) and many more…

Funniest moment: I couldn’t find one.

The cast:

* From the gang of Carry On regulars, we get Sid James (4 episodes), Barbara Windsor (8), Peter Butterworth (9), Joan Sims (11), Kenneth Connor (12), Jack Douglas (12), Hattie Jacques (1), Patsy Rowlands (1) and Bernard Bresslaw (5). Also appearing are Sherie Hewson, Victor Maddern, Diane Langton, Carol Hawkins, Brian Capron, Bernard Holley, Patsy Smart, Melvyn Hayes, Johnny Briggs, John Levene and many more.

Top totty: Barbara Windsor.

Review: Talbot Rothwell, who’d written every Carry On movie since 1963’s Carry On Cabby, retired from the series in 1974. In other words, this pathetic TV sitcom was the first thing made after he left. While no one’s going to suggest Rothwell was the next PG Wodehouse or anything, the quality has now fallen off a cliff. Calling this show’s jokes ‘jokes’ is to misunderstand what the word jokes means. The self-contained episodes often launch straight into the story, with no set-up or storytelling finesse, while they’re full of big, unsubtle, theatrical performances. It’s not even half-arsed.

One spoof of Mr Hudson out of 10

Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Another pair of super-villains – ice-cold Mr Freeze and eco-terrorist Poison Ivy – team up and cause all kinds of trouble for Batman, Robin and their new friend, Batgirl…

Good guys: It’s amazing this film didn’t stop George Clooney dead in his tracks. He was still in ER while filming Batman & Robin – having taken over the lead role from Val Kilmer, who was busy on The Saint – and was only a couple of years into a promising movie-star career. He’s clearly one of the world’s most charismatic actors, yet just seems embarrassed to be here. Bruce Wayne has a long-term girlfriend, but is reluctant to commit to her; he’s also worried about Alfred, who’s dying from a degenerative disease. Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell for a second time) is now Batman’s full-time partner-in-crime-fighting. Robin has a motorbike and everything. But he gets annoyed by Bruce’s patronising, protectionist attitude and strops off, saying he’s going to go solo (a tiff exacerbated by the film’s villain). The pair also have a new member of the team. Barbara Wilson turns up unannounced at Wayne Manor in a school uniform (“Please be looking for me,” says Dick when he answers the door). She’s Alfred’s niece and is on a break from her studies at Oxbridge Academy in London – yet has an American accent. She seems timid at first, but then sneaks out at night to take part in illegal street racing. After she open a box the dying Alfred specifically asked her to leave alone, she learns Bruce’s secret. Wanting to help, she defines herself as Batgirl and joins in during the climax, dressed in a body-fitting costume pre-emptively built by an AI programme in the Batcave. Alicia Silverstone is staggeringly awful in the role. It’s like they’ve filmed her first reading of the script.

Bad guys: Arnold Schwarzenegger gets top billing for his pitiful performance as Victor Fries, aka Mr Freeze, a scientist who has been affected by an accident that means he has to remain at a frozen temperature. He has an ill wife in a cryogenic tank, ice-skating henchmen, and a relentless need to make laborious puns at every opportunity. Schwarzenegger was a boyhood favourite of mine. I endlessly rewatched The Terminator, Predator, Commando, The Running Man, Twins, Total Recall and others, while I sneaked into a cinema to see Terminator 2 when I was only 12. It’s all the more depressing, then, to see him miscast and floundering in this garbage. Mr Freeze’s ally in the story is Poison Ivy (played by a flamboyantly rubbish Uma Thurman). She starts out as Dr Pamela Isley, a botanical researcher whose work is being exploited by deranged Dr Jason Woodrue. When she confronts him, he tries to kill her – but she’s instead swallowed by the earth and emerges as confident, flame-haired Poison Ivy. She has a grudge against Bruce Wayne because of his company’s poor record on the environment, and teams up with Mr Freeze (and a super-soldier called Bane, who Woodrue was working on before Poison Ivy killed him).

Other guys: Michael Gough actually gets an emotional subplot in his fourth and final appearance as Alfred. Elle Macpherson plays Bruce’s girlfriend, Julie Madison – it’s a role that feels like it’s been cut down in post-production (presumably because she can’t act). Pat Hingle reprises Commissioner Gordon one last time. John Glover (Scrooged, Gremlins 2, Robocop 2, and the voice of the Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series) plays Woodrue. Jesse Ventura has a cameo as a prison guard.

Best bits:

* There aren’t any.

Review: A two-hour toy advert. Perfunctory plotting, plywood performances, plastic production design, crass comedy, diarrhoeic dialogue, senseless stunts and a general air of ‘Will that do?’… Is this film some kind of elaborate practical joke? A Starship Troopers-like satire of mediocre movies? If so, I’m missing the joke in a phenomenally powerful way. It’s by no means the only disappointing ‘fourth film’ in a series – Thunderball, Superman IV, Police Academy 4, The Omen IV, The Next Karate Kid, Alien: Resurrection, The Phantom Menace, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Bourne Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – but it’s easily the worst. Apocalyptically atrocious.

One fetishistic close-up of Batman’s vacuum-packed arse out of 10.

Next time: Catwoman gets her own movie!

The Ladykillers (2004)

Ladykillers

Written by Ethan and Joel, based on 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers by William Rose; directed by Ethan and Joel; produced by Ethan and Joel

‘Professor’ Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks) rents a room in the house of a religious, elderly woman so he and his gang can use her cellar in their plan to rob a casino…

Seen before? No.

Best performance: Cloak, white suit, odd facial hair, false teeth, geographically unsure accent – what the buggering fuck is Tom Hanks doing?!

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): Bruce Campbell (4) has a cameo, Stephen Root (2) has a small role, and JK Simmons (1) is one of Dorr’s gang.

Best bit: An American football game filmed from a player’s point of view.

Review: Tiresome beyond belief. Good comedy is based on truth, but this drivel is about outlandish cartoon characters played by actors more concerned with being eccentric than being interesting. If you ever wondered what 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven would be like if you took away the wit, style, panache, likeability, skill, talent, tension, comedy, charm, charisma, class, subtlety, surprises, twists, intelligence, good cast, cool music, sharp dialogue and enjoyment levels, then this is the film for you.

One irritable bowel out of 10.