Spoof horror really is


Scary Movie (18) General release

Back in the 1960s and 1970s when British cinema and television thrived on the double entendres of the Carry On movies and the smuttiness of The Benny Hill Show, American productions generally steered clear of such nudge-nudge humour. In recent years, however, America has begun to embrace the risque with a passion, turning crude comedies such as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary, American Pie and South Park into popular successes. The grosser a movie gets the more it grosses. Made for $19 million, and the biggest surprise hit of this year in the US - where it has taken over $150 million - the crude and tasteless Scary Movie is modelled on the hit formula of the scattershot movie parody series, Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and spiked up with as much sexual innuendo, nudity and fart jokes as could be crammed into 90 minutes.

This time the target for lampooning is the usually absurd behaviour of witless teens in recent horror movies such as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, in particular, while The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects are parodied along the way. Scary Movie opens with a frame-by-frame skit on the opening sequence of Scream, with Carmen Electra as the heroine-in-peril (named Drew after the Scream star) who is literally given signposts that show the logical, safe way out of her dilemma and, as is de rigueur for the genre, she blithely ignores such advice. It does not matter that the threadbare narrative which follows exists solely to string the various spoofs together in this calculatedly provocative exercise, which takes the genre to new extremes when it introduces an erection as a lethal weapon.

Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and starring his brothers Shawn and Marlon, the puerile though sporadically funny Scary Movie is certainly an improvement on their mostly feeble spoof on black movies, Don't Be a Men- ace To South Central While drinking Your Juice in the Hood, which was shown by the BBC last weekend, but it is conspicuously lacking the wit, pacing and emotional involvement of last year's American Pie.

The success of Scary Movie suggests that this parody genre will soon exhaust its possibilities as the studios crank up spin-offs.

The Luzhin Defence (15) Screen at D'Olier Street, Dublin

Dutch director Marleen Gorris follows the Oscar-winning Antonia's Line and her meandering movie of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway with an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, The Luzhin Defence, set in the Lake Como area of northern Italy in the late 1920s. Emily Watson plays Natalia, a young Russian aristocrat holidaying there with her mother (Geraldine James) who is intent on seeing Natalia marrying into high society - and preferably to the handsome French count (Christopher Thompson) staying at the same luxury hotel on the lake.

Her mother is appalled when Natalia turns her attention instead to Alexander Luzhin (John Turturro), a shy, nervy and shabbily dressed chess grandmaster who is there to play in a world championship tournament. "Alexander, why don't you tell us where it all started?" Natalia asks, archly cueing the movie's flashbacks to Luzhin's troubled childhood as the only child of a depressed mother and her unfaithful husband. The Irish actress, Orla Brady, plays the boy's aunt who introduces him to chess, a game well-suited to his obsessive personality. The weakest link in the drama is its simplistically drawn villain, the boy's so-called "chess father" (Stuart Wilson), the mentor who exploited his prowess for financial advantage, and Luzhin proves an easy, vulnerable victim for his cruel schemes. Set against attractive locations, The Luzhin Defence eventually survives its most awkward and mis-judged dramatic options to deliver a quite involving meditation on the themes of genius, obsession, manipulation and the power of love. This is largely due to the quality and sensitivity of the two central performances, with Turturro's mannered portrayal of Luzhin gradually taking on a power of its own and the consistently impressive Watson holding the film together all the way to its touching closing sequence.

Flick (18) IFC, Ster Century, UCI Tallaght, Dublin; Kino, Cork

The first feature written and directed by Irish producer Fintan Connolly (see feature above) is a lean, tightly coiled contemporary drama resourcefully achieved on a remarkably low budget. Flick opens at Dublin Airport where Jack Flinter (David Murray), a moody, middle-class twenty-something and small-time drug dealer anxiously awaits the arrival of his best friend and partner in crime, Des (David Wilmot), who's flying in from Amsterdam with 10 kilos of Moroccan hashish.

Connolly's experience as a documentary maker is reflected in the succinct sequences which establish Jack's personality and his milieu, observing the deteriorating nature of his relationship with his girlfriend (Catherine Punch) and following him around some of the city's most recognisable locations as he deals drugs to his regular contacts. In a nightclub he meets a young German woman, Isabelle (Isabelle Menke) and they end up in bed at a hotel. Meanwhile, Des, whose heroin addiction is escalating, wants to draw Jack into bigger, more dangerous criminal schemes.

Flick, which takes its title from Jack's schooldays nickname, plays like a modern western in which Jack is the stoic, impassive protagonist, a restless loner who, when he allows himself to get out of his depth, is reluctantly drawn into action and forced to accept certain moral responsibilities. The law advises him to get out of town, the forces of evil are closing in on him, and the love of a good woman is the only likely agent of his redemption. A few underdeveloped elements do not register as serious distractions from this clearly focussed drama which is refreshingly free of the winking irony of most recent British gangster yarns. The mood of the movie is enhanced by Owen McPolin's atmospheric lighting and Niall Byrne's strong dramatic score, along with the solid cameo appearances by Gerard Mannix Flynn as a determined drugs squad detective, Alan Devlin as an unscrupulous drug-dealing kingpin, and Vinnie McCabe as a loquacious taxi driver.

The Closer You Get (15) General release

Today's second Irish-made new release also takes place in a present-day setting, but one far removed from the realism of Flick - and indeed from all but the folkiest notions of contemporary Ireland. The Closer You Get takes place in Kilvara, a very sparsely populated Donegal coastal village where time appears to have stood still and where most of the young men are so desperate for relationships that they place an advertisement in the Miami Herald to entice young American women to the annual village dance. This is an Ireland where the nosy postmistress steams open other people's mail. Where one male character still has a Bananarama poster emblazoned on his bedroom wall. Where the men gear up for the village dance by practising the twist (ask your grandparents). Where the parish priest organises the weekly film screenings and there is uproar when he is sent 10 instead of The Ten Commandments - and one older woman tries to block the movie's images of Bo Derek in a swimsuit. No kidding!

Meanwhile, the men remain oblivious to the attractions of the village's single women, one of whom explains the title when she remarks, "The closer you get to something, the harder it is to see it." Blandly directed by Aileen Ritchie, this twee, sentimental and patronising effort is the first film produced by Uberto Pasolini since he hit the box-office jackpot with the overrated The Full Monty, which this resembles in its tale of disparate desperate males concocting an off-the-wall scheme to brighten up their prospects.

The flimsy screenplay is the work of an English writer, William Ivory, who actually comments in the press book that "it's a Bergmanesque take on comedy - within all the funny situations there is something quite soulful and often, quite pitiful going on." That Bergmanesque reference is funnier than anything in his script, but one can't help feeling pity for the capable cast. Pat Shortt and Ruth McCabe fare best within the confines of such slender material, while Sean McGinley, Niamh Cuasck, Risteard Cooper and newcomers Sean McDonagh and Cathleen Bradley are given little to do, and Ian Hart is saddled with an irritating crotch-scratching mannerism.

Cabaret Balkan (aka The Powder Keg), directed by the Serbian film-maker Goran Paskaljevic, gets its first Irish release at Triskel Cinematek in Cork, beginning next Wednesday night. This gripping, dark-humoured drama interlinks diverse characters over one turbulent night in Belgrade in November 1995, on the night the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed. Paskaljevic, who is about to film How Harry Became a Tree on location in Ireland, will participate in a public interview at Triskel on September 23rd.