Tag Archives: 6/20

My Best Friend’s Wedding

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Longtime friends Jules and Mike have an arrangement to marry if they’re still single by the time they turn 28; and when the plan’s ruined by Mike’s engagement to wealthy young Kimmy, Jules realises that she should be the one he’s taking up the aisle. Her initial plans failing to put Mike off, Jules ups the ante by interfering in his career plans – with disastrous results.

To look at Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), you’d imagine she was pretty content with her life. As a New York food critic she strikes fear into chefs, and her editor George (Rupert Everett) is a wonderfully waspish companion. She also has a long-standing agreement with old flame Mike (Dermot Mulroney) that they’ll marry each other if they haven’t found soulmates by the time they’re 28, which doesn’t trouble Jules until Mike calls to say he’s marrying student Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) in four days’ time.

Suddenly realising she’s in love with Mike herself, Jules rushes to Chicago – where Kimmy’s family just happen to own the White Sox – intent on breaking the lovebirds apart. However, the plan backfires when she becomes both Kimmy’s maid of honour and Mike’s best (wo)man, and neither the fiancée’s awful singing, nor her innocent intervention – at Jules’ bidding – in Mike’s work life, nor Jules’ unlikely claim to be wildly in love with George, distract the groom-to-be.

In desperation, and ignoring George’s advice to simply tell Mike how she feels, Jules sends a headhunting email to his employer in the guise of Kimmy’s father. It has the desired effect, to the extent that Mike calls off the wedding; though little of what happens next gives Jules much cause for celebration, optimism, or pride.

It’s easy to deconstruct My Best Friend’s Wedding, an entirely unromantically assembled rom-com which rides on the trains of contemporary weddingy films such as Four…and a Funeral, using the star power of Roberts and the subversive influence of Australian director P.J. Hogan (director, of course, of Muriel’s…) to draw the punters in. But whereas Hugh Grant’s Charles was a sweet bumbler, and Muriel – for all her deceptions – was a complicated, funny and ultimately optimistic character in Collette’s capable hands, Jules is, for want of a better word, a psycho, lying constantly to get her way and refusing to tell the truth until it’s (nearly) too late.

Jules says of herself, ‘I’ve done nothing but underhanded, despicable, not even terribly imaginative things since I got here’, and she gives the viewer absolutely no cause to disagree; so why are we meant to feel anything but disgust for her?

The answer, apparently, is because she’s played by Julia Roberts, which would be fine if the actress were stretched by a witty or blackly comic script; but neither writer Ronald Bass nor Hogan get her to do much bar smile her dazzling smile and look vaguely troubled whilst talking to Paul Giamatti’s inexplicably wise valet. Even Jules’ daily life is annoying, her high-flying, low-stress job allowing her to disappear for days on end without the slightest consequence. There are also at least four instances of Jules or one of her cohorts falling over, a slapstick device which viewers of TV’s Miranda will recognise as a useful alternative to jokes that arise organically out of the plot.

It’s not only Jules who doesn’t satisfy. Mulroney’s a big dumb lump of conflicted emotions, exhibiting little that would logically send either Jules or Kimmy gaga; and Diaz is very pretty but an archetypal spoilt rich girl. Rachel Griffiths and Carrie Preston enjoy larking around as Kimmy’s friends, but they don’t feel like real people, and like the rest of the cast don’t inhabit anything resembling a real world.

Okay, so it’s a film, and in the fantasy of film a bar can be won over by Kimmy’s abysmal karaoke and a whole table, nay restaurant, can be word-perfect performing I Say a Little Prayer*; but My Best Friend’s Wedding skims so relentlessly on the surface of its set-up (aren’t rich people’s nuptials fabulous?) that asking us to do anything so involving as empathise with selfish old Jules feels like a rotten cheek.

Thank the Lord, then, for Rupert Everett. The Englishman takes what could have been a wretched part, the queeny best friend, and brilliantly makes George the movie’s leading man. Whether through acting genius or sheer luck, Everett finds exactly the right camp tone between fantasist fluff and Jules’ selfish strops, playing his part with wit and gay abandon when asked to play her fiancé. The energy dips whenever he’s not on screen – which is quite a lot – but Everett has so much fun with George (at Julia’s expense – watch his busy hands in the taxi!) that he single-handedly makes the movie worth sticking with. Little wonder that when all the mundane wedding business is over and done with, it’s George who proves to be Jules’ knight in shining armour.

Everett isn’t all there is to recommend about My Best Friend’s Wedding, but he’s just about the only thing about it that’s memorable apart from Jules, played with skill by Julia Roberts but memorable for all the wrong reasons. If you’re absolutely desperate for a romantic comedy and this is the only thing to hand, this goes through the motions in mechanical fashion: but in all honesty, why settle for such blandness, such mediocrity, if you can enjoy When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall instead?

NOTES: You’re well served if you like Bacharach and David songs, but Dionne over Aretha? You’ve got to be kidding.

The Time Machine

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Brilliant but scatter-brained physics lecturer Alexander Hartdegen is distraught at the murder of his fiancée and constructs a machine that will take him back in time to prevent Emma’s death. The consequences of his invention go far beyond his imagination as he is flung into the far future and the middle of a war between two alien (to Alex) races: one peaceful, the other brutal and cannabilistic.

I have not read H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine so would not be able to tell you which plot points, characters and so on stem from his work and which are the product of Hollywood screenwriters; however, I can state with some confidence that were the author transported from 19th Century England to the present day and sat in front of Simon Wells’ movie, he would conclude that his great-grandson had made a complete rickets of his story.

Although we are not given an exact date, The Time Machine takes us to early 20th Century New York, where Professor Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) ignores the pleas of his friend David Philby (Mark Addy) to slow down and enjoy life as he skitters through traffic (including early automobiles) to meet his beloved Emma (Sienna Guillory). No sooner has Alex proposed, however, when a man emerges from the bushes to hold them up; in the struggle that follows, the robber fatally shoots Emma.

Jump forward – via caption, at this point – four years and the professor’s a scruffy, deranged scribbler, the despair of David and his motherly housekeeper (Phyllida Law). They believe his work bears all the traces of madness, but behind a curtain is hidden Alex’s great secret: a shiny chrome Time Machine that takes him back to Emma and averts her death, though the respite is temporary. Distraught, Alex jumps into the future, initially finding a beautifully clean New York populated by helpful holograms such as moving library Vox (Orlando Jones), but a short further hop forward reveals the disastrous results of messing about on the moon.

Alex scrambles back into his time machine and, unconscious, races 800,000 years into the future before he is brought round by helpful Eloi teacher Mara (Samantha Mumba), with whom Alex bonds. The peaceful, Polynesian lifestyle of the Eloi on shell-like structures halfway up the cliffs is threatened whenever they tread on land, as a race of violent subterranean creatures called Morlocks hunt them for food under the leadership of Uber-Morlock Jeremy Irons. When Mara is captured, Alex calls upon the miraculously still-working Vox to guide him to the Morlocks’ lair.

Movies featuring time travel are always easy targets for pedants, and to its credit The Time Machine neatly sidesteps most issues of paradox, even with the unintentionally amusing double dispatch of Emma; because Emma’s death instigated the building of the time machine in the first place (ie. if she had not died there would have been no reason to build it), because the machine exists, Emma must be dead. It’s a logic that you could argue with (perhaps he built it later as a hobby?) but does make some sense within the film.

What we don’t get is any explanation whatsoever of how the machine is built, or how it works: it just does, and we have to go along with that. Fine, but it’s difficult to believe in Alex’s amazement at Vox’s technology when he’s built a ruddy time machine!! What we get instead are glib attempts at humour such as Alex receiving correspondence from Einstein and a woman in 2030 looking at the machine and saying ‘Bet that makes a hell of a cappuccino!’ I’m not asking for a load of pseudo-science, but a scene showing some experimentation would have laid the ground more effectively.

There are, however, two real problems with the film: firstly, the story is a mess, completely failing to balance the urban science fiction of the first half with the war between divergent human races in the second. What has been a quietly diverting tale suddenly turns into a third-rate Indiana Jones adventure, and although the Morlock race is effectively brought to the screen they are a confusing bunch of people, capable of throwing darts and making great leaps but easily outpaced by a puny scientist.

Also, while the majority of the Morlocks appear to be incapable of speech, down in the depths the Uber-Morlock is a terrifically-well spoken chap. In its conclusion the film is at its weakest, resorting to a good old-fashioned punch-up to sort the men from the mutants and having the time machine itself act like a nuclear bomb when required – handy that! Such laziness aggravates minor concerns, such as whether fragments of the half-destroyed moon would still be orbiting the earth after 800,000 years or the continued operation of Vox. In addition, neither of the love stories are given time or space to become convincing, Emma barely introduced before she is taken (both times), and Mara’s attraction to Alex reduced to hand-holding.

And this brings me to the second problem. Although the script never helps the actors, in places The Time Machine is horribly miscast; Pearce is perfectly adequate in the dual scientist/action man role, but around him lie a couple of really strange choices. Mark Addy, who rose to fame as a chunky Northerner in The Full Monty, looks and sounds embarrassed to be playing an American scientist; and whilst Samantha Mumba might look the part, her chemistry with Pearce is non-existent. Her talents, such as they are, begin and end with her singing: of course, she would be a complete unknown to anyone from outside the UK and Ireland, and it’s odd that she should be chosen over a more established box-office draw.

As Emma, Sienna Guillory is pretty in a Julia Roberts-lite kind of way, but also fails to generate much heat; in her case, I would say that she is never given the opportunity. And I can barely imagine what Irons must have thought of his role as the horribly-named Uber-Morlock, but his performance in frightful white make-up and wig is his traditional upper-crust English baddie, the voice completely at odds with his appearance. It’s tosh, but Irons’ pounds- per-second of screen-time ratio must be among the best in movie history.

As Wells already had a career in animated film (directing, amongst other films, The Prince of Egypt), it was not complete lunacy to hand him a project with which he could claim unique ties; and The Time Machine always looks like a decent film, several time-lapsed sequences showing the retreat or accelerated progress of time impressing greatly. Unfortunately, when the landscape outside the machine stops evolving and the story has to wind itself up again, the film falls apart. All in all, a sad failure, and no doubt Wells would love to go back and have another go, if only he had the equipment at his disposal.

Phantom of the Opera, The (2004)

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Beautiful dancer Christine Daae is promoted to lead roles at a Paris opera under the tutelage and influence of her ‘angel of music.’ But when he chooses to reveal his love to her, he also reveals himself to be the half-crazed opera ghost living within the bowels of the building, making demands of the opera’s new owners. Christine must choose between her love for childhood sweetheart Raoul and her strange fascination with the Phantom.

There is a moment at the start of Phantom of the Opera when the black-and-white framing scene (in which the opera’s effects are being auctioned off) bursts back in time, bringing the opera house back to vivid, colourful life to the accompaniment of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s famous organ chord introduction. Sadly, it is one of the rare moments of drama in a film that looks the part but fails on all other grounds. I have not seen a stage production of this musical, but this review comes the same week as watching the film version of Mamma Mia! and what that piece may lack in sophistication, it more than makes up for in getting the viewer involved.

Phantom the film suffers because Joel Schumacher fails to get a feel for the mood of the work, and this appears to affect the performance of the actors. The opening is fairly efficient at introducing the protagonists: new opera owners Andre and Firmin (Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds) accompany new patron Raoul (Patrick Wilson) to rehearsals of a noisy opera called Hannibal, in which the temperamental diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is the star. Mme Giry (Miranda Richardson) guides the ballet girls, including her daughter Meg (Jennifer Ellison) and Raoul’s former acquaintance Christine (Emmy Rossum); Mme Giry may know more than she lets on about the ‘Opera Ghost,’ who soon makes his demands known. When Carlotta goes off in a strop, Christine fills in and a star is born.

All well and good – except that these scenes, like the whole film, are played with such an unevenness of tone that you don’t know who or what you should care for. Callow and Hinds go for light comedy, whilst Driver pitches at full-on Italian pantomime; Richardson’s reactions are underplayed, brooding with a thick French accent, but her daughter is quite clearly a Scouser and her friend American. The accents wouldn’t matter so much if the acting was better, but Rossum and Wilson deliver such flimsy, wooden performances it’s a wonder they don’t get carried off with the rest of the scenery.

Things barely improve when the Phantom appears. Gerard Butler is the man in the mask and is a tall, imposing figure; yet – and this may not be his fault – he generates very little chemistry with Rossum, who remains lifeless throughout. What almost certainly is Butler’s fault (I can’t imagine he would have been dubbed by someone else this way) is the Phantom’s singing voice which, whenever asked to go higher than mid-tenor range, turns unpleasantly shouty.

Accordingly, moments which are meant to be musically thrilling become turn-offs. To be fair to the performers, musical highlights are fairly thinly spread – Butler shouts his way through Phantom of the Opera and Music of The Night whilst Rossum does an okay job of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again – and a lot of parts which are presumably meant to sound operatic are a mess of people talking over each other. There are also a lot of typically unmelodic Lloyd-Webber recitatives (if that’s the word), which in other musicals would be leavened by the words of Tim Rice, but here only feature Don Black and Richard Stilgoe’s awkward punning.

To mention a few positives, I should say that the sets and costumes both look gorgeous, as do most of the cast. Also, things do heat up a bit (as they should) towards the climax with Raoul’s pursuit of the Phantom; but even here, the Don Juan opera is pretty terrible, The Point of no Return hardly a hum-a-long – and it is preposterous that removing the Phantom’s mask also removes his hair dye! Schumacher’s film contains a few highlights, but if you are looking for a dramatic and gripping version of Gaston Leroux’s tale which really gets you into the story, for all its technical limitations I would recommend Lon Chaney’s silent Phantom of 1925 over the one cooked up here.

Carry On Dick

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Deciding that something needs to be done about notorious highwayman ‘Big’ Dick Turpin, Sir Roger Daley sends his best Bow Street Runners to apprehend him. When their mission fails, big cheese Captain Fancey is dispatched to sort the matter out; however, his attempts to discover Dick’s identity are scuppered by the strangely unhelpful interventions of the local rector, Reverend Flasher.

Carry On aficionados will tell you that Carry On Dick is really the last hoorah for the team, featuring as it does the final performances from series stalwarts Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw and, missed most of all, Sid James. Whilst it is true that, Charles Hawtrey and Jim Dale apart, the rest of the gang are present and correct, this – the 26th film in the series – goes to show that the best comic actors in the world aren’t up to much if not provided with original material.

Sid James stars as the randy Highwayman, concealing his nefarious activities with a day job as a respectable rector, having fun with comely maid Harriet (Barbara Windsor) whilst dodging the desperate affections of willing organist Miss Hoggett (Hattie Jacques). Harriet doubles as one of ‘Big Dick’s’ accomplices – Peter Butterworth’s Tom is the other – and together they make the lives of the rich miserable, not least the repeatedly-targeted Sir Roger Daley (Bernard Bresslaw, assuming a gruff ‘acting’ voice to no particular purpose).

Daley, hell-bent on stemming the tide of lawlessness, first sends hapless Sergeant Jock Strapp (Jack Douglas) to sort out the problem, but he is easily outwitted; Captain Desmond Fancey (Kenneth Williams) is then put onto the case, but his plan of passing himself off as a robber to gain information constantly backfires, as Turpin/Flasher always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Even when Sir Roger takes personal charge of the case, he is no match for the old codger’s wiles.

And there, I’m afraid, is the key word: ‘old.’ I don’t know what sort of health Sid was in whilst filming Dick, but apart from the climactic chase around the church, his character is relatively static as he cackles his way through the film. In fact, Sid doesn’t have to do much at all except cackle; his trademark pursuit of Babs is already a fait accompli. This means that Kenneth Williams gets to do most of the running, and he is good too, trying out a couple of voices as he ham-fistedly attempts to go undercover in the notorious robber’s inn, The Old Cock*.

Unfortunately, Hattie Jacques is wasted completely, and Joan Sims’ long-in-the-tooth-Madame Desiree (complete with bevy of beauties) is forgotten about as the film winds up, though when she is on-screen her usual shtick – posh outward appearance hiding coarse East End vulgarity – works well enough. She is certainly more entertaining than Jack Douglas in full Alf Ippititimus mode: scarcely amusing in the modern day films, his twitchy, clumsy mannerisms are simply weird when placed in a period context. The rest of the cast also do their usual thing, Kenneth Connor taking a small role as the local constable, giving him the opportunity to say ‘Silly old con…stable!’ (which I quite enjoyed, especially as the line gets half-lost).

Talbot Rothwell’s script (this was his last film too) struggles to achieve any balance between jokes and plot, resulting in numerous scenes which are either one or the other. Good gags are few and far between, consisting of a procession of boob and willy jokes that quickly lose any impact with repetition – the ‘Big Dick’ line is done to death, as is a scene where Hattie has to keep pumping up her organ to keep the congregation going.

Elsewhere, there is an almost inevitable sense of over-familiarity, with old jokes and situations cropping up again, for example the grotesque vision of Sid, this time with Peter Butterworth in tow, in drag, recalling Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (on a side note, the costumes appear to have been recycled from Don’t Lose Your Head too. This doesn’t mean they don’t look okay, as the production values are generally fine; but it adds to the feeling of déjà vu).

Carry On Dick is far from terrible and at 86 minutes won’t keep you too long, however it contains little that is likely to feature in many people’s Best of Carry On comedy moments, with even Babs’ flash of nudity containing an air of jaded sauciness, and several instances of proper (though concealed) swearing replacing innuendo. Last hoorah this may be, but all these last appearances really do is make you nostalgic for Carry Ons where both the cast and the jokes were much, much fresher.

NOTES: This is not just another saucy joke , contrary to expectations, but the genuine name of the inn where the real Turpin was known to stay. I would not, however, recommend typing ‘old cock’ into Google unless you’re prepared for all that entails.

Cursed

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: When siblings Ellie and Jimmy encounter a werewolf in Los Angeles and come off second best, they bear their scars in different ways. While student Jimmy finds a use for his new-found strength, Ellie struggles to come to terms with uncommonly powerful urges, all the while trying to maintain normality in her job and her relationship with unreliable boyfriend Jake.

There’s a beast loose in the L.A. hills, and it causes TV producer Ellie (Christina Ricci), travelling with nerdish brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), to hit the car of unfortunate young Becky (Shannon Elizabeth). Jimmy and Ellie try to rescue Becky but the creature drags her away, wounding Ellie and Jimmy in the process. The authorities write the incident off as an attack by a mountain lion, but Jimmy’s not convinced, and his research convinces him that they’ve been attacked by a werewolf.

Further proof comes when marks appear on his hands, and he’s suddenly able to humiliate former bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) in wrestling, in front of Bo’s girlfriend Brooke (Kristina Anapu). Meanwhile, Ellie has issues with her boyfriend, nightclub designer and ladykiller Jake (Joshua Jackson), and work trouble with Scott Baio’s pushy PA Joanie (Judy Greer), so a sudden bloodlust – and the more usual kind of lust – is something she could well do without.

However much she tries to deny the curse, Ellie can’t escape the evidence: but what to do about it? Well, as Portia de Rossi’s solemn psychic tells her, the only cure is to kill the beast; and there seems to be no shortage of candidates as to who it might be – not Chachi, surely?!

Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s Scream – financially, at least – did the horror genre a huge favour. Essentially, it laid the cards on the table, said ‘look, we know we work to a formula, that we use sudden scares, loud music and fake-outs to get reactions; we acknowledge and embrace these conventions, so turn off the VHS, come back to the cinema, sit back and let us scare the living daylights out of you.’ Having come clean, horror films were free to be as generic as they liked, since in the background the filmmakers were winking at the audience to say, ‘yeah, we know.’ With Cursed, Craven and Williamson turn their attention from the slasher genre to the werewolf movie – and pretty much fall flat on their faces.

The reasons for this are numerous. Firstly, it’s an entirely predictable exercise in bringing elements of werewolf lore to Los Angeles (which apparently enjoys a perpetual full moon, though new werewolves are affected by the moon in confusingly variable ways). Even if it is filtered through a post-Scream sensibility, the plot feels lazy, combining Ellie’s confused feelings with Jimmy’s Teenwolf-like adventures as they try to track down the original beast (I won’t reveal what happens here, but a) it doesn’t matter much and b) your first guess will probably be right).

But the main problem is that Cursed simply doesn’t deliver on what it needs to. It’s obvious that the gore has been toned down – not necessarily by Craven, I understand – to cater for a younger audience, which is fine; but it mixes computer-generated monsters (including a nasty version of Jimmy’s faithful dog Zipper) with men in wolf costumes, making neither look very good. Amazingly clever though the technology is, virtual creatures never feel real enough to be scary, and the effects here are not a patch on the transformations Rick Baker produced in the vastly superior An American Werewolf in London. Not once was I remotely grossed out or shocked, and the supposedly comic moments (eg. the beast giving police the finger) also felt misjudged.

Cursed also suggests that lycanthropy has certain fringe benefits for your sex life, but the age rating means that this too is toned down, neither Elizabeth, Mya (as pretty victim #2) nor Ricci giving much in the way of sexual heat or animal passion. Ricci acts gamely but isn’t right for the role, being neither a Rose McGowan-type hussy nor a Neve Campbell-like fighter, her occasionally whiny voice not suited to anger or shouting.

Eisenberg, acting dorky, comes off much better, and it’s fun to see him using the internet in the light of his later role in The Social Network; but he’s given nothing original to do, except perhaps fight off some unwanted attentions from an unexpected party. The rest of the cast are perfectly alright, Jackson appearing suitably ambiguous – is he a concerned partner, a scumbag lothario, or worse? – and it was quite nice to see Scott Baio send himself up. But if Scott Baio’s the highlight of your movie, you know you’re in trouble. Portia de Rossi, by the way, is completely wasted in a role that does nothing but explain the plot.

Ironically, Cursed was apparently cursed with production problems, and it shows. There’s definite mileage in a film called Teenwolves in L.A., either as a full-blooded horror or a knowing comedy: Eisenberg could no doubt handle both, as could both writer and director. However, this mushy, mediocre compromise is unlikely to satisfy anyone’s tastes. Avoid and – if you’re old enough – seek out John Landis’ masterful wolf movie instead.

Bruce Almighty

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Buffalo News reporter Bruce Nolan is tired of constantly being sent out to cover ‘wacky’ stories, and when he is passed over for an anchor spot he takes his anger out on God. Unusually, God decides to teach Bruce a lesson by endowing His powers on him, and suddenly Bruce is unstoppable – except where his neglected girlfriend Grace is concerned.

Having sent Jim Carrey’s lying lawyer into contortions by making him tell the whole truth for a whole day in Liar, Liar, director Tom Shadyac again teams up with the rubber-faced one to bring us Bruce Almighty. Carrey is the titular Bruce, an ambitious reporter in Buffalo frustrated by the ‘lighter side’ assignments he’s sent on; and even when he gets the chance to report live from the Niagara Falls, the mission is mostly a ruse to remove him from the scene whilst his smarmy colleague Evan (Steve Carell), who steals Bruce’s material, is given the newly-free seat alongside attractive co-anchor Susan (Catherine Bell).

Hearing of the appointment, Bruce goes nuts on live TV and is promptly sacked, causing him to rant at God, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), a teacher who believes in the power of prayer and is unsurprisingly upset at being included in Bruce’s ‘mediocre life’. As Bruce’s life goes from mediocre to bad to worse, he is pestered to call a pager number which leads him to a meeting with jovial janitor Morgan Freeman, aka God. God fancies a holiday so imbues a disbelieving Bruce with all his powers, the only rules being that Bruce cannot reveal his omnipotence to anyone nor mess with their free will.

He instantly sets about abusing his power to not only get his job back at the station by reporting on incredible events as they happen (he finds Jimmy Hoffa’s body and films a meteor strike), but to become anchor by sabotaging Evan’s broadcasts. He’s successful but discovers that there are side effects to being God: he keeps hearing people’s prayers and even granting them all doesn’t secure happiness, as there’s no benefit in millions of people winning the lottery; besides, meteors and pulling the moon out of orbit are fine for Bruce but have negative effects elsewhere.

Worst of all, Bruce’s selfishness doesn’t do anything to win over Grace, who is devastated when a posh evening out results not in a proposal but in Bruce gloating about his success. She leaves and Bruce finds that it’s not at all easy being God.

Bruce Almighty’s immediate problem is that it takes an age to set up, since God doesn’t put in an appearance (as Freeman, anyway) until the half-hour mark. Once it gets going, the segment where Bruce abuses his powers for personal profit and pleasure is quite good fun, but even here there are indications that the writing is neither as sharp nor as creative as it might be: most of Carrey’s less-than-divine interventions are silly jokes (regurgitating spoons, parting the red soup (geddit?), and even the highlight of the entire film – Carell’s involuntary antics as he attempts to anchor the news – outstays its welcome. Elsewhere, the jokes are weak, such as the ‘Yahweh’ website that coordinates prayers, or the film’s big running joke about Bruce and Grace’s freely-urinating dog; funny to six-year olds, no doubt, but the rest of the material is pitched way above their heads.

As the film tries to wrap up it becomes increasingly convoluted, with Bruce being kissed by Susan at a party but making Grace do most of the work to mend fences, then when Bruce gets his anchor spot a series of power cuts caused by rioters (unhappy about the lottery) somehow bring him to his senses, only for him to be killed by a lorry and brought back to life with the help of Grace’s blood.

This, incidentally, is the only theologically interesting idea in a film which doesn’t really have anything controversial to say about God, though it does get its knickers slightly in a twist about how much people should exercise Free Will and how much they should surrender to God’s. And (of course) the conclusion is cloyingly syrupy, even if the dog is no substitute for Liar, Liar’s kiddie; Shadyac again tries to have his comedy sliced both edgy and cute, but his film actually comes across as both insincere and blunt.

Devoid of strong material, Carrey has to gurn ever harder to earn his laughs, and while that worked fine on The Mask it’s a bit depressing – having seen the subtlety of his performance in (the admittedly later) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – to see him at it here. Aniston, meanwhile, seems destined to have three kinds of film performances: Rachel, miscast, and generic. Her Grace is firmly of the last kind; she is perfectly fine, but the teed-off girlfriend (unoriginally a nursery teacher with a married and child-bearing nag for a sister) has very few jokes of her own and the part could have been played by any actress of a similar age. Freeman is fine but barely gets out of first gear, and though it’s not Freeman’s fault I found the symbolic presence of a tramp throughout the film (who could He be?) more annoying than intriguing.

Bruce Almighty is okay, in that it raises the odd chuckle and isn’t horribly misjudged or horribly offensive (though you may feel there are many more people deserving of God’s help than Bruce); but it suffers from being incredibly familiar and predictable, not only in Carrey’s performance but in most of what happens to him (getting caught with another woman, undergoing a sudden and complete personality transformation in the last ten minutes). It can’t help but invite comparisons to much better fantasy-driven movies such as Groundhog Day or the daddy of them all, It’s a Wonderful Life; in that company, Bruce is a whiny, spoilt brat and not remotely mighty.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Despite his incarceration, Dr Evil brings back a colleague in evil called Goldmember from the 1970s to hold the present to ransom with his fearsome, meteorite-attracting invention – Preparation H. Britain’s grooviest spy, Austin Powers, is on his trail, but his attention is diverted by the charms of Foxy Cleopatra and the disappearance of his even groovier father.

If it is a truth generally acknowledged that sequels are rarely better than their begetters, the same goes double for comedy, making 1999’s The Spy who Shagged me a rare beast indeed, despite some complaints that it gave too much space to gross-out humour at the expense of lampooning Bond and his ilk. Could the third instalment in the burgeoning franchise buck all trends and be the best of the bunch?

Things begin promisingly in dashing Mission:Impossible fashion with a helicopter gunship and motorbike chase, with Tom Cruise as Austin Powers and Kevin Spacey as Dr Evil in a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. However, once this entertainingly star-studded credits sequence has finished, things quickly take a turn for the worse.

The plot, such as it is, sees Dr Evil (Mike Myers, in one of four roles) still with Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), plotting to hold the world to ransom with the assistance of unfortunate Dutchman Goldmember (Myers). Austin Powers (Myers again) captures Evil early on, but relaxes his security in exchange for the information that Goldmember, a flaky roller-skating character with a precious asset, is hiding Austin Powers’ father Nigel (Michael Caine) in a 1975 disco.

Austin has issues with his father, not least that he missed his crowning as International Man of Mystery at school (which we see in flashback), and these issues are not improved when Nigel is rescued and proves to be even more shagadelic than his son. Nonetheless, with the help of undercover Agent Foxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles), Powers and Mini-Me (persuaded to change sides when Seth Green’s Scott Evil starts living up to his name) battle Fat Bastard (Myers’ final incarnation) and other random henchmen to find Dr Evil in his secret underwater lair.

In Austin’s previous outings, the plot ripped off enough storylines from Bond films to fuel the jokes and keep the action moving at a brisk pace; here, however, it is treated as very much a side issue to the characters. Austin himself is now pretty familiar to us, so Myers is naturally more interested in his villains; unfortunately, whilst he can be funny, he’s no Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, and the characterisations are all pretty similar beneath the make-up.

There are several overlong and indulgent scenes, including Dr Evil’s first, where Myers (playing against himself) does not have much for the characters to do but engage in childish verbal jousting, most of which would surely have ended up on the cutting room floor had meatier material been available. Elsewhere, the film veers uncertainly between wee and fart jokes, gentle parody and outright spoof, with wirework people standing by for Fat Bastard’s stunts and a subtitles gag that brings back memories of Wayne’s World.

The film’s few good gags (such as Fred Savage’s mole with a mole) are done to death, as are the bad ones – Fat Bastard’s sequence in Tokyo really stinks, in every sense – and there is a self-consciousness about everything having been done before, attested to by a redundant appearance (not that they have any other kind) by the Osbournes. Desperation is marked by a lame Jay-Z parody (that couple did well out of the movie, if nobody else did) and an “I can see your/you’re nuts” joke that was old when it featured in Kentucky Fried Movie. Never mind that the film peters out to a pretty lame and obvious conclusion.

Apart from Myers, the acting is adequate, with Robert Wagner and Mindy Sterling sidelined in favour of Myers’ new creations and Beyoncé having a beautiful face, voice and body but very little chemistry or attitude, the latter especially disappointing given the Blaxploitation possibilities implied in her character’s name. The star of the show is Caine, effortlessly showing up Myers’ faux London accent as he dominates every scene he’s in; he is utterly believable as Austin’s ultra-suave father and very funny with it. Look out too for a brief appearance by future Heroes star Masi Oka in a good joke about copyright laws.

The film fitfully hits the target and it’s clear that Myers likes his characters and their mannerisms; however, he fails to keep his humour fresh or disciplined, and fails to project it out to the audience. For this reason, Goldmember will only really appeal to the most forgiving of Mike’s fans.