Shriek if you know what I did Last Friday the 13th

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: A group of suspiciously familiar-looking students with a secret to hide unwittingly become the targets of a manic masked killer in and around their dysfunctional high school. As a dopey mall cop and a vacuous TV reporter watch proceedings unfold, everyone involved gets a strange feeling that they’ve seen it all before.

‘You can’t stop progress!’ was Bill Heslop’s catchphrase in Muriel’s Wedding, and in many ways this is a good thing: for one, it means I’ve mentioned Muriel’s Wedding, which is a great film; for another, it means that with the march of time and technology the range of films that you can watch without moving a muscle – in near-cinema quality, these days – has expanded exponentially, making the speculative trip to the local video, er, place a thing of the past. As such, opportunities to watch films such as SIYKWIDLFT13, complete with trailers for appallingly cheap sci-fi movies starring Steve Baldwin, have diminished considerably. I may be mad, but I believe this is a shame.

Why all the pre-amble? Well, there’s not an awful lot to say about Shriek if…, other than the fact that it covers nearly identical ground to Scary Movie, and by extension Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, except with a considerably lower budget (the two spoofs came out within similar timescales, and I don’t think this film actively copies the Wayans brothers’ effort in any way).

So, instead of little-known actors such as Anna Faris playing the parts of the high school pupils with a guilty conscience and a masked slasher causing havoc in the background, you have complete unknowns: Harley Cross is Dawson (geddit?), the new guy; Julie Benz is Barbara, the airhead blonde; Simon Rex is Slab, the dumb jock; Danny Strong is Boner, desperate to lose his virginity (thereby roping in American Pie and several old Porky’s jokes at the same time); and Majandra Delfino is Martina, possible love interest for Dawson except for the hurdle that everyone assumes she’s a lesbian (largely on the basis of her unimaginative name).

The ‘stars’ of the show are reporter ex-Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills 90210 starlet Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as crack reporter Hagitha Utslay, and ex-Mr Roseanne Barr Tom Arnold as dopey mall cop Doughy. Although the pair have some involvement in the plot late on, especially Arnold, they form not so much a chorus to the youngsters’ goings on as a pause for breath while the scene changes behind them, complete with gags both related and completely irrelevant to the goings-on elsewhere in the film. Predictably, this lends the film a very sketchy air, and though the whole is tied together by Scream’s plot, these interludes and other fairly unconnected cameos from Coolio as The Administrator Formerly known as Principal (not a bad joke, actually) give a shortish film a fragmented feel.

More than anything, though, the film parody lives or dies on the quality of the material; and Shriek… does contain enough laughs to overcome many of its limitations, not least in the deviant school nurse (Shirley Jones) and one or two of its more inspired, if not exactly up-to-date, parody moments – particularly good is a Grease skit which fails to catch on (‘Of course it looks stupid if you don’t join in’, moans Slab, or words to that effect).

But just when all is going quite well, in particular treading a nice line in not lapsing into the tastelessness of the Wayans brothers’ output, the film gets horribly self-conscious, Martina declaring to the assembled house party that they are in a ‘parody situation’, awkwardly name-checking inspirations such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun! and explaining the formula behind spoof films as the gags take place on-screen. This is in itself a Scream reference, of course, but comedy is never improved by someone trying to explain why something is supposed to be funny. Not that, at this particular point in the film, the jokes are up to much anyway.

This lumpy section apart, Shriek if you know what I did Last Friday the 13th is a harmless enough way to spend an hour and a half. That the Killer’s identity is of no consequence either before or after he’s revealed doesn’t matter much, but it is perhaps a bit disappointing that the younger actors don’t make a greater impression. They are, like the movie as a whole, pretty forgettable, but it’s a lot more appealing than Steve Baldwin doing sci-fi – though perhaps I should reserve judgement until I actually get round to seeing Xchange.

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Scream

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: A masked killer starts slashing up the teens at Woodsboro High School, bringing back painful memories for Sidney Prescott, whose mother met a grisly end the previous year. As the teams follow scary movie etiquette and gather at a remote farmhouse, dozy cop Dewey does his best to track down the killer, with gung-ho reporter Gail Weathers in hot pursuit.

‘Do you like scary movies?’ With this innocuous question, an intimidating caller intrigues then terrifies young house sitter Casey (Drew Barrymore), before the caller reveals himself to be a black-clad, ghost-faced, knife-wielding killer. Casey’s subsequent violent death – and that of her boyfriend Steve – sets tongues wagging at Woodsboro High School; but while boys Billy, Randy and Stu (Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard), and Stu’s sometime girlfriend Tatum (Rose McGowan) find the horror movie-like events grimly fascinating, Billy’s unhappy girlfriend Sidney (Neve Campbell) has reason to be worried.

Sid’s mother was raped and murdered a year previously, and the killer makes a beeline for her at the High School, bumping off interfering staff on the way. Tatum’s brother, police Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), tries to look after the youngsters, but he’s not the most effective cop in the world and his head is easily turned by Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), the reviled reporter who made a name for herself writing about Sid’s mom’s murder. Despite a curfew, the gang congregates for a scary movie night at Stu’s place, where Sid and Billy work out their intimacy issues and the killer – suspected to be Sidney’s father – makes his presence felt. But who, if anyone, will live to see the murderer unmasked?

As the WFTB film review library has grown, it has revealed that your reviewer naturally gravitates towards certain broad genres – comedy, action – and away (in so far as you can gravitate away from anything – anti-gravitate?) from others, most notably horror. So it’s with that caveat that I say the following: at their best, horror* films make you jump, squirm, or plead with the protagonist not to go upstairs/into the woods/wherever. They can make for a supremely uncomfortable experience, and while I rarely enjoy that experience, it can be thrilling and I know many people love to be scared (as this film loves to remind us, John Carpenter’s Halloween is an object lesson in squirmy, screamy terror).

And to begin with, Scream promises to deliver exactly the same kind of thrills as the seventies slasher movies it riffs on; Casey’s death at the hands of a sinister voyeur is horrible and shocking, but pitched absolutely right. From then, however, Craven’s movie (written by Kevin Williamson, who would follow up with I Know What You Did Last Summer) becomes far too self-conscious about what it’s doing, throwing in abundant horror references (the school janitor’s called Fred) to go with the endless discussion about horror movies and what makes them work.

Scream’s meta-cinematic approach is undoubtedly clever, and has much to offer connoisseurs of the genre; but it also detracts immensely from becoming immersed in the film. There are constant reminders of what we’re watching (’This is life…it isn’t a movie,’ says Sid: ’It’s all one big movie,’ retorts Billy), and while this is intellectually quite good fun, it doesn’t generate the fear we need to get involved in the killer’s pursuit of Sidney and his other victims.

The treatment of ‘Ghostface’ is a little strange too: when he’s stalking the girls directly, he’s extremely menacing (witness how he methodically cleans his blade); but at other times he appears without any fanfare, and he’s strangely prone to being attacked, though he’s only temporarily debilitated. His ultimate identity is interesting and I won’t spoil that for anyone here; but what happens post-reveal feels nasty. Not in a guts-to-your-eyebrows Peter Jackson way, either, but grubby and unnecessarily humiliating. As for Randy’s ‘one last scare’ observation, I prefer – in a thriller – not to be told what’s going to happen immediately before it happens (though it does, of course, set up Sid for her inevitable one-liner).

Perhaps because the film is consciously mimicking the tropes of the genre, the girls come out of Scream a lot better than the boys. Campbell’s Sidney is a convincingly imperilled screamer, her instincts telling her to run, her determination making her fight back when push comes to shove. She’s also just virginal enough to be the heroine, in contrast to Tatum, whose sexuality is all up front and obviously earmarks her as a victim, according to the rules.

The boys, meanwhile, are a strange bunch. Ulrich’s intensity eventually gets the better of him, and while I instinctively like Matthew Lillard, I struggle to think of anything I’ve liked him in and his Stu is distractingly over-the-top. The same is true of the older cast: Courtney Cox easily escapes her television boundaries in a surprisingly hard-headed role, while future ex-husband David Arquette makes much less of an impact as the interminably soft Dewey. Still, he’s pretty effective as comic relief, and his puppy-like concern for both Sid and Gail is cute.

I didn’t respond to Scream, as you might be able to tell; but it evidently touched a raw nerve with a new generation looking for old-school scares, as the ubiquitous sequels, two independent spoofs (Scary Movie and Shriek if etc.), a slew of fresh teen slasher pics and remakes of seventies originals all attest. Not my bag, then, but by no means a bad movie – and whatever its faults, it can‘t be held responsible for some of the rubbish it inspired.

NOTES: Not just horror films, actually. No matter how many times I see it, the bobbing head at the start of Jaws always scares the proverbial out of me.

Deconstructing Harry

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Writer Harry Block, suffering from a case of writer’s block, hopes that a road trip back to his old school with some unusual companions will ease his worries. However, the impending marriage of the girl he loves constantly plays on his mind, as do characters from his books. His creations start to give him advice, until he barely knows what is real and what is a dream.

All but the most attentive Woody Allen fan would be excused for starting to find his films, by 1997, something of a blur. With the previous year’s Everyone Says I Love You he had spiced up his trademark brand of tortured relationship angst with song and dance; for Deconstructing Harry, he swings the other way and delivers his most adult film yet, littered with Anglo-Saxon obscenities, a sprinkling of sex and nudity, and a jarring editing style which sees scenes jump-cutting at seemingly random points.

The basic story remains the same, however. Allen is Harry Block, a depressive, neurotic writer with three failed marriages behind him, one of which (to psychiatrist Kirstie Alley) has given him a nine year-old son. Although Harry is successful, his habit of placing ‘thinly disguised’ versions of himself and his real-life experiences in his stories causes no end of difficulty for his friends and lovers, most notably his last wife’s sister Lucy (Judy Davis), with whom he had an affair.

Surviving Lucy pointing a gun at him, Allen escapes with his son, friend Richard (Bob Balaban) and easy-going prostitute Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) to his old school, whose staff are celebrating his achievements as a writer; Harry, however, is pre-occupied with trying to stop his last girlfriend Fay (Elisabeth Shue) from getting married to fellow writer Larry (Billy Crystal).

So far, so Allen. Apart from the edgier style (mirroring Harry’s disjointed life, as the film unnecessarily spells out), this version of Woody being more overtly sex-addicted than others (he loves whores!), Deconstructing Harry is filled out by the recreation of Harry’s stories on the screen. Hence, Lucy becomes Leslie in the re-enactment and is played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus; Kirstie Alley’s Joan becomes Demi Moore’s Helen; and Allen’s alter egos are portrayed variously by Tobey Maguire, Stanley Tucci and Richard Benjamin, amongst others.

Things get really complicated when Benjamin and Moore start appearing in Harry’s world, dispensing the advice that he doesn’t want to hear, and elements from Harry’s ‘real’ life (for example Larry) begin to prop up in Harry’s fantasies, including a sharp discussion between Allen and Crystal in Hell, where (for some reason) most of the naked ladies live.

The key question, of course, is does it work? Well, none of the swearing, editing or bare flesh add much to the film, except to take attention away from Allen’s one-liners which are limited in number but still pretty good when they arrive. Harry’s stories vary in holding the interest: a short tale in which actor Mel goes out of focus, forcing his family to wear glasses to see him properly, is fun (though Robin Williams, playing Mel, doesn’t do much); but another, supposedly satirising Harry’s father, in which a man confesses to his wife of thirty years that he killed and ate his previous family doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Similarly, the conceit of Harry’s characters visiting him is interesting but, if anything, not enough is made of it. When Richard dies, he visits Harry in his jail cell soon after (he has been humiliatingly arrested for kidnap, drug possession and soliciting all at the same time), exhorting the value of being alive. This is meant to be a further extension of Harry’s neuroses, finally resolved as he realises he can only cope with life by treating everyone else as a fictional character, and framing everyone in the film as potentially the product of his imagination; but whether it’s truly effective I don’t know. Personally, I found it less successful than the integration of ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ characters in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, but equally I found a second viewing of Allen’s film a lot less jarring than the first.

I am completely ambivalent about Deconstructing Harry. On the one hand it’s more of the same, an amusing exploration of Allen’s twisted life and loves in which Woody himself is looking increasingly ill-suited as a romantic lead; on the other it’s a brave experiment which doesn’t completely succeed, packed with a host of star names (all of whom act very well) but still likely to offend more old Allen fans than it attracts new ones. In short, not quite the sum of its complicated parts, but worth sitting through for flashes of brilliance. Or vice versa.

Vixen!

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Not satiated by her square pilot husband Tom, buxom young wife Vixen fills her days in British Columbia by taking pleasure with anyone she can grab hold of, excepting her brother’s black friend Niles whom she mercilessly insults instead. However, Vixen’s teasing threatens to backfire and when a lucrative charter goes awry for Tom, she’s not the only one in danger.

Looking for an adventure holiday with a difference this year? Why not come to the British Columbia guest house run by Tom and Vixen Palmer (Garth Pillsbury and Erica Gavin)? Amiable host Tom will fly you there and will be happy to take you fishing, while big-hearted Vixen will accommodate you any way she can.

But don’t take our word for it, just ask happy couple Dave and Janet King (Robert Aiken and Vincene Wallace), who’ll both vouch for Vixen’s attentive nature: she aims to please – and be pleased – any time of the day or night. Just a word of warning: stay clear of Vixen’s biker brother Judd (Jon Evans), a troublemaker who loves stirring things up between Vixen and his draft-dodging friend Niles (Harrison Page); Niles has to suffer Vixen’s sharp tongue and there’s only so much abuse he can take. You might also want to avoid political conversation with visitors such as outwardly genial Irishman O’Bannion (Michael Donovan O’Donnell), who charters Tom’s plane but isn’t really bound for San Francisco.

In a sense, it feels pointless to even attempt a review of Vixen. Viewed at the most basic level, Meyer’s film is exploitation personified, a skin flick which jams as much naked flesh and as many couplings as it can into 70 energetic, frantic minutes. Erica Gavin fits the director’s bill for aggressively-natured, large-breasted women and Meyer films her with fervid enthusiasm, particularly Vixen’s powerfully erotic seduction of the sozzled Janet. If that’s what you’re after, the incendiary elements specifically designed to cause outrage – incest, racism, Communism and at least attempted rape – are no more than window dressing.

If, however, you want to look at Vixen in the same way as any other film, some of that window dressing is highly problematic. Vixen getting it on with her brother is incredibly icky, while her vile name-calling of Niles is shocking, not to say unacceptable, to a modern ear. More than these, however, the rape scene is troubling not only due to what it is, but because the film suggests that Niles is somehow absolved of blame because he’s provoked by both his victim and the thoroughly despicable Judd.

Also, although they’re a cut above the mere nods to characterisation that pornographic films offer (so I understand), Vixen’s characters don’t quite work as real people, and the fact that the acting is either highly stylised or terrible, depending on how kind you’re feeling, doesn’t help. In fact, Harrison Page actually does a decent job as Niles, but he can’t fully convey the numerous conflicts that Meyer piles on his shoulders. The incredibly unsubtle music quickly becomes repetitive and grating too.

Whatever you make of its contents, Vixen is undeniably filmed with style. Meyer shoots and edits in a tight, exciting fashion and refreshingly refuses to pad out the running time for its own sake. There’s also something about the brash, confident tone of the movie which gives it greater substance than the vast majority of softcore outings.

Perhaps it’s the setting in the great outdoors, or the fact that Vixen (like most of Meyer’s women) is such a strong character, or the way that the director makes Gavin (and Wallace, for that matter) look so good; but while Vixen is at heart a titty film, it honestly doesn’t feel sleazy. The sexual content is mixed with a knowing sense of humour throughout, from the solemn travelogue opening to the utterly ridiculous sincerity of O’Bannion’s quest to find his own pot of gold in Cuba. And if the mixture of drama and politics that forms the film’s climax doesn’t have the ring of true drama, at least Russ has a stab at it – and he even puts in a cameo appearance in the movie’s pay-off.

So, Vixen is a sex film with bad acting, ridiculously outré plotting, poor taste and racist language which – even when condemning the speaker – sounds inappropriate and awfully dated at this length of time. However, Meyer is absolutely in control of events and shows that he’s a master of his craft. Whether or not you see any merit in that craft has to be a matter for you.

Lost Highway

WFTB Score: 14/20

The plot: Jealous saxophone player Fred Madison discovers that he may have butchered his wife Renee, who he suspected of being unfaithful. Convicted and condemned, Fred undergoes a fantastical transformation and emerges as a younger man with a great deal of sexual potency. He is, however, still deeply troubled.

Discussing David Lynch films is tricky. Really tricky. You could do it like this: Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is warned that Dick Laurent is dead. He and Renee (Patricia Arquette, brunette) have a series of videotapes delivered to their door, showing somebody videoing their house, outside then inside, and finally showing Fred having hacked Renee to pieces. Just before the delivery of the last tape, they go to a party where Renee is overfriendly with the host Andy (Michael Massee) and Fred meets a mysterious man (Robert Blake) who reveals that he can be in two places at once.

Condemned to death by electric chair, lightning surrounds Fred’s prison cell and the man in the cell transforms from Fred into Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young small-time crook and gifted mechanic who services the car of tough guy Mr Eddy (Robert Loggia), known to the police as Dick Laurent, and also services his companion Alice (Arquette again, blonde) in addition to his girlfriend Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner, bearing similarities to Arquette as a brunette). Eddy finding out about the liaison, Alice devises a getaway plan and convinces Pete to rob her associate Andy (Massee again); during the robbery, Andy dies violently and the pair drive off to the desert, making love whilst waiting for her fence to arrive to get cash for Andy’s stolen effects.

During the love-making Alice tells Pete he will never have her and walks off. Fred, not Pete, gets up, alone in the desert. He discovers that the fence’s hut is in reality the home of the Mystery Man (still Blake). They find Eddy/Laurent in the Lost Highway Hotel; Fred kills him and just has time to tell himself that Dick Laurent is dead before speeding down the highway in a car chase that sees him surrounding by electrifying lights…

You could do it like that, but that doesn’t help to tell you what the film is actually like. Like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway presents two stories which may in fact be one, told in a deliberately unsettling style completely at odds with mainstream Hollywood. There are uncomfortable silences, oppressive background hums and violent, shouty songs; there’s unsettling sound editing; there’s not much action, but a lot of snippets and mysterious coincidences. And the first sex scene between Fred and Renee, whilst simply being the two of them in bed, is a terrifyingly unhappy business. More than anything, Lost Highway feels like a twisted ghost story.

It’s quite easy to piece together an explanation of the film which makes sense, and it is important that the viewer can do this for the film not to feel like a series of random events. The most plausible explanation would suggest that once condemned to death (though possibly much earlier), the film portrays the hallucinations of a dying or drugged man, echoes of his real life occasionally seeping through – the music, the face of his wife – interspersed with fantasies of sexual prowess; but even these are tinged with the obsession and jealousy that destroyed his marriage. This may be way off the mark, but solving the puzzle really isn’t the point of Lynch’s films: it is the intriguing journey that matters, and the journey convincingly takes you into the neurosis/es of the central character(s).

Pullman is very good in the lead role, with Arquette, Getty, Loggia and Blake all adding to the atmosphere with strong, aggressive performances. Arquette in particular is asked to do a lot of sex-related work and whilst this occasionally gratuitous, it never feels inappropriate and is not done for titillation. She is an object of desire and obsession and an adult film approaches this in an adult way.

Undoubtedly, Lost Highway will not be to everybody’s tastes and those determined not to like it will find plenty to complain about: it never really gathers pace, the film looks sparse and low-budget, a lot of the acting is pretty static and there is an overwhelming feeling of artsiness about it. I don’t go along with the line that if you don’t like a complicated film it must be because you don’t understand it, but even if you were not struck by Lost Highway the first time round, give Lynch’s jigsaw puzzle another go. Just bear in mind that there may be a few pieces missing.

Carry On Again Doctor

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Dr Nookey, having made a nuisance of himself in pursuit of glamorous patient Goldie Locks, is exiled to the poorly-named Beatific Islands to man a privately-funded hospital. He doesn’t find many patients and loses himself in drink and misery until his companion, Dr Gladstone Screwer, alerts him to a miracle weight-loss serum. Hot-footing it back to England, Dr Nookey opens his own incredibly successful clinic, much to the chagrin of former boss Mr Carver, who will use any means at his disposal to discover Nookey’s secret.

Though in no sense a formal sequel to any of the other medical Carry Ons, there is nonetheless an inevitable sense of familiarity about goings-on in Carry On Again Doctor. Kenneth Williams is once more the snooty superior, this time Frederick Carver, a surgeon desperate to get his healing hands on the bulging purse of widowed private patient Ellen Moore (Joan Sims). Jim Dale is another clumsy doctor – Dr Nookey, causing mayhem with Longhampton Hospital’s electricity supply as he tries to impress model Goldie Locks (Barbara Windsor). And Hattie Jacques is again tasked – not for the last time – with wearing a look of semi-permanent outrage as she fills her matron’s uniform.

When Nookey, inebriated by the naughty tricks of Dr Stoppidge (Charles Hawtrey), terrifies an already nervous patient and goes on the rampage in the hospital, Carver takes his chance to get rid of him and ingratiate himself with the wealthy widow at the same time; Nookey is exiled to the rain-and-windswept Beatific Islands where he encounters Sid James’s Dr Gladstone Screwer, head of Mrs Moore’s charitable mission. Gladstone has little to do but live up to his surname with wives Monday to Friday, but although the offer of a wife doesn’t cheer Nookey up much, the transformation of the proposed bride from an overweight heifer to a trim tease in a week immediately sets pound signs flashing in his eyes.

Nookey returns to set up a lucrative clinic in England with the assistance of Mrs Moore, who, along with Goldie, is booked in for treatment; Carver, returning from his own hellish trip to the Beatific Islands, learns of the arrangement with horror and sends Stoppidge out in drag to find out the serum’s secret; that secret, and the cash it attracts, also brings Gladstone to England.

Featuring the full complement of knowing nudge-winkery and bright performances from most of the series regulars, Carry On Again Doctor is an enjoyable addition to the series, if not one from the top drawer. Jim Dale’s Nookey is the main focus of the plot and whilst he is perfectly amiable, Dale is not quite up to the mark; to be fair to him the character is hopelessly overloaded, required to be simultaneously clever, clumsy, randy, devious, cheeky and handsome; but the performance reflects this, borrowing Norman Wisdom’s mannerisms one minute, copying Sid’s laugh the next, and having him aggressively pursue Goldie just after he has shied away from the prominent sexuality of Valerie Leon’s secretary.

As if in sympathy, the plot is more than usually shambolic, and whilst the jokes still come thick and fast, with a number of gems (such as Gladstone getting the football scores via jungle drums) buried amongst the usual ‘having it’/’fancy a bit’ innuendo, there is something amiss in the characters’ interactions. Ellen Moore’s interest in Dr Nookey is underplayed and crucially Goldie seems to dislike him throughout, making the sudden ending (one of the series’ weakest) all the harder to take.

The fact that Sid only turns up amongst the rest of the cast late on deprives the film of much of the Carry Ons trademark lechery, which I am increasingly coming to realise trades on the chemistry – however uncomfortable it may be to watch – that exists between Sid and Barbara. It should also be said that whilst Williams is superbly imperious (and spared the indignities of some of the later efforts), Sims and Hawtrey do occasionally seem a little unfocused. At least Peter Butterworth is limited to a (very funny) walk-on, and Jack Douglas is missing entirely.

Carry On Again Doctor, despite its title, manages to mix up its unthinkingly sexist formula with some good new gags, even if some of the characterisations are as unbalanced as the storyline. Wisely expanding the doctors’ horizons far outside of the wards, this is far from Talbot Rothwell’s worst script and the leading lights of the series do it justice, with production values to match (the X-ray effect is particularly well done). Cheerful, and not too cheap.

Enchanted

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Determined not to let her stepson Prince Edward marry and deprive her of her throne, Queen Narissa pushes the lovely Giselle into the real world on her wedding day. Once over the shock caused by modern day New York, Giselle discovers that there is more than one Prince Charming prepared to bestow true love’s first kiss.

Disney once ruled the roost in the world of family films, but it’s a world that has recently become a very crowded place, whether you’re talking about animated features or otherwise. Hemmed in by a horde of revisionist fairytales (the Shrek Trilogy and Hoodwink’d to name but two), Disney have decided with Enchanted to make fun of themselves, although as might be expected the ribbing is very gentle.

The beginning of Giselle’s fairytale story is very familiar, with its pop-up storybook and old-fashioned swelling choir leading us into an animal-filled dwelling, clearly inviting us to recall classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Giselle is looking for her first experience of true love, seemingly to be provided by the square-jawed Prince Edward. Saving Giselle as she falls from a tree, the pair are to be married; but the jealous Queen Narissa, in the form of an old crone, puts paid to the union by pushing the bride into a mysterious waterfall, causing her to land up in a live-action Times Square.

As the animated section lasts little longer than ten minutes, it would be wrong to dwell on it too much. However, the characters are clearly drawn with the live actors in mind and this makes them look odd, and Amy Adams’ voice is not particularly suited for a cartoon heroine; also, the wise-cracking chipmunk Pip comes across like an annoying PA, so it’s a huge relief that he loses his voice in the Big Apple.

Anyway, Giselle (now entirely represented by Adams) is rescued from her Big City trauma by pragmatic divorce lawyer Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan, who is not allowed the fantasy of fairytale books even though she’s only six. Robert is due to marry fashion designer Nancy (Idina Menzel), though as he gets to know Giselle better his feelings about her and romance as a whole evolve. In the meantime, Edward (James Marsden) also arrives in New York to rescue Giselle, hampered by Narissa’s devious lackey Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) who pops up and tries to trick Giselle into eating poisoned apples.

You can guess the fun and misunderstandings that are to be wrought from naïve cartoon characters appearing in businesslike New York, and Enchanted does a pretty good job of presenting them: an impromptu musical interlude in Central Park is a particular highlight, the cast singing That’s How You Know with energy and colour; the vermin cleaning Robert’s flat are also funny and immaculately brought to life. As far as the story goes, however, there are a few problems.

Firstly, the basic idea of Enchanted is essentially a copy of Elf, and Will Ferrell does the larger-than-life fish-out-of-water rather better than Amy Adams, who is all wide-eyed surprise and hand waving. Secondly, Adams and the rest of the cast are not well served by a mediocre script, which takes a lot of time establishing that Robert doesn’t believe in romance when it should be having fun.

James Marsden is entertaining as Prince Edward, but he is often overshadowed by Spall or the Computer-generated Pip (who we see too much), and Edward inevitably recalls Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, a much sparkier and wittier movie. The script also has shopping as the most magical thing that can happen in the real world (“much better than a fairy godmother,” says Morgan, waving a gold credit card); this is great news for all the Manhattan boutiques that get a bit of screen-time, but is surely a horrible message to give to children, however subliminally.

I have other minor gripes too. Not that she has to be, but Rachel Covey as Morgan is not a particularly cherubic child; she’s no brat, which is good, but compared to (say) Mara Wilson at a comparable age she doesn’t bring much to the picture. Menzel is badly done by as Robert’s less charming option (scenes giving her a more rounded character were cut for ‘pacing’), and palming Nancy off with Edward seems small recompense. Whilst Susan Sarandon is perfectly good as Narissa, getting to act her head off in the scary finale, and Giselle rescuing Patrick a refreshing reversal from the norm, the end of the film is not particularly original – and it’s a long time coming. And don’t get me started on why the song chosen for the Waltz is all wrong!

Enchanted is not a bad film in the slightest, and viewers of a certain age will no doubt find the adventures of the sweet Giselle completely captivating. For me, however, it doesn’t shake up memories of classic film fairytales so much as make me wish I was watching one of the classics instead. For while this has its moments, it’s not particularly magical, and I can’t see it being regarded as a classic in the years to come.