SPEED RACER * * *
Cert PG 135 mins
It's taken a while to bring the cult 1960s anime TV series to the big screen, but it's hard to imagine how it could have ever been done as a live action feature until the technology was state of the art enough to render its comic book design and the sheer adrenaline rush of the race sequences.
Indeed, directed by the Wachowski brothers, on a return to Matrix visual form after their V For Vendetta misfire, this is so hyper-kinetic you might feel the need to swallow a bottle of Ritalin after viewing.
Set in a hi-tech vision of the present, the plot's a simple coming of age battle between idealism and cynical self-interest, good and evil.
Natural-born racing driver Speed (Emile Hirsch) gets to take on corrupt corporate sponsor Royalton (Roger Allam channelling Tim Curry) whose egomaniacal lust for power and money involves fixing every major race.
When Speed declines his offer of a contract in favour of keeping the Racer team a family affair, Royalton declares he'll never finish a race again, let alone win one. And he'll destroy the Racer family's reputation into the bargain.
Enter the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) who, in tandem with Inspector Detector (Benno Furmann) is looking to bring down Royalton and his empire, and want Speed racing in their corner alongside Asian race hero Taejo Togokhan (Rain).
Of course, before you get here, there's a massive wedge of exposition prologue to get through involving Speed's idolised older brother Rex (Scott Porter) who died in a deadly rally after quitting the family team and disgracing the World Racing League with his dirty tricks. Or so it might appear.
Once that's out of the way, it's a straight ahead series of showdowns between Speed in his famous Mach 5 and the drivers and hirelings Royalton's ordered to take him out, first in the Casa Cristo 5000 rally that killed Rex and then in the Grand Prix.
With so many climaxes, the film's positively multi-orgasmic but if it's way too long it certainly never flags.
Filmed against green screen with back-grounds and race sequences added by computer, as cars turns somersaults, soar over cliffs, play mid-air shunt and fly before your eyes in a technicolour blur this is the Thornton's equivalent of the CGI candyshop, a cocktail of amphetamined videogame, Tron, and Scaletrix on acid.
Drenched in vivid day-glo colours, it's a full on assault on the senses (even more so when projected on the giant IMAX screen) so credit to core cast that includes John Goodman as Pops Racer and a Christina Ricci as Speed's feisty sweetheart Trixie for finding room to be just a little more than cartoon characters.
Even better is Susan Sarandon who, as Mom, brings a real sense of emotional gravitas to proceedings.
If you're over the age of seven you might want to live without the juvenile antics of Speed's sweet-guzzling chubby little brother Spritle (Goodman lookalike Paulie Litt) and his annoying pet chimp, but there's little doubt that, after making his mark as a serious actor with Into The Wild, this is the film that turns Leonardo DiCaprio clone Hirsch into a major popcorn movie star.
It is, ultimately, an empty spectacle for fan boys, adrenaline addicts and X-box junkies, but it sure takes you for one hell of a ride in the driver's seat.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS... * *
Cert 12A 98 mins
What happens in Vegas? Nothing you've not seen before. A mismatched couple are thrown together by circumstance, start off being at each other's throats then gradually fall in love and wind up wanting to stay together out of choice.
So, if the plot's a predictable given, what incentive is there to actually sit through it again? To be honest, not a lot. Although the last 15 minutes are quite sweet, even if they do represent a complete change of tone.
Prior to that, you get Cameron Diaz shouting and waving her arms around a lot in the way Americans do when they think they're being hilarious and Ashton Kutcher recycling his little boy charm to diminishing effect, but still proving the film's best asset.
She's a career-driven city trader who heads for Vegas with her obligatory cynical best friend (Lake Bell) when she's dumped by her fiancé in front of all the guests at the surprise birthday party she's arranged.
Here she crosses paths with Kutcher, a commitment-shy underachiever with no self-belief who's come to Vegas with his obligatory cynical best friend (Rob Corddry) after being fired by his furniture manufacturer boss (Treat Williams). Who also happens to be his father.
Waking up after a drunken night's hard par-tying, the pair find they've gotten themselves wed. No problem. They'll get it annulled. But then he puts her quarter into the slot machine and up comes the jackpot.
Going to court to get a ruling on who the $3m belongs to, they're ordered to do six months 'hard marriage' to try and make a go of things. Or lose the money.
They also have to attend counselling (with Queen Latifah who obviously had an hour spare in the schedule) to prove they're putting in the effort.
So, first you have the cohabitation gags (mostly involving the toilet seat) as she's forced to share his untidy bachelor apartment, then it's the gags as each tries to undermine the other and get them to walk out of the agreement.
In the process, she's warmly embraced by his folks, he ingratiates himself with her boss (Dennis Farina), he loosens her up, she gives him self-confidence and everything goes through the well worn motions.
Following on from smart Britcom Starter For 10, so formulaic is the style and approach here director Tom Vaughan seems to disappointingly have had no input whatsoever, unable to rein in the frenetic screaming long enough to let the inner battle-of-the-sexes screwball breathe.
There's some fun to be had with the ongoing bickering between Bell and Corddry (who make far more convincing love-hate opposites), but as far as laughs go this is more slim city than Sin City and the best marriage guidance would be to avoid.
DOOMSDAY * *
Cert 18 109 mins
Having made an auspicious debut with were-wolf horror Dog Soldiers and consolidated his reputation with claustrophobic caving horror The Descent, someone obviously decided to throw a lot of money at Brit writer-director Neil Marshall to make this a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. Unfortunately, the lad seems to have let the cash go to his head, splashing out on effects and paying no attention to the screenplay.
Indeed, he seems to have just cut and pasted huge chunks of plot and character from other films, most notably Escape From New York and Mad Max. Unfortunately, he can't tell the difference between homage and movie karaoke.
Some 25 years after the deadly Reaper virus saw Scotland sealed off from the rest of the country by a 30ft high steel wall presumably erected within a few days without anyone noticing or any problems with inconvenient geography, a new strain of the disease resurfaces in London.
So PM Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and scheming adviser Canaris (David O'Hara) haul in police chief Nelson (Bob Hoskins, paying the rent) and confide that they've known for a while that there's survivors behind the wall.
Where there's survivors, there must be a cure. And they want his best man to put together a team to find it.
The answer, they believe, lies with Kane (Malcolm McDowell, in standard hammy mode), a scientist left behind in the evacuation while the best man turns out to be tough cookie fighting machine Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra).
She was actually one of the last to be airlifted out of Glasgow when she was a child, leaving behind her mother (the hinted maternal reunion plot never arrives) and her left eye. In its place she now sports a computerised orb which she can remove to see round corners.
Why do that instead of carrying another gadget is as inexplicable as why her eye patch keeps disappearing, but then little of the narrative makes any coherent sense or is possessed of any consistent internal logic.
Once inside the no-go zone, they quickly find the survivors have become cannibal punk savages who've watched too many Mad Max reruns.
The team's swiftly dispatched (Sean Pertwee does get to go out in a gruesome chargrill sequence while Fine Young Cannibals plays in the background), leaving just Sinclair, Norton (Adrian Lester looking bewildered) and a spare scientist.
Those not distracted by wondering where the punks get their cans of lager from let alone the massive electricity supply, will learn the savages' leader is Sol (Craig Conway), a mohawked psycho whose dad just happens to be Kane, who now heads a rival survivalist tribe who've reverted to a medieval lifestyle, complete with castle and Gladiator rip-offs.
You couldn't make it up, and frankly, Marshall shouldn't have bothered trying.
The dialogue's terrible, the one-liners unfunny, the characterisation minimal and the acting of barely video game standard, Mitra looking good but patently no Sigourney Weaver, Milla Jovovich, Linda Hamilton or even Kate Beckinsale.
Marshall drives everything along at a hyper-kinetic rate and throws in some decent action pieces in the hope you'll won't suss just how bad and dull it is. Sorry, chum.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? * *
Cert 12A 90 mins
Having taken on McDonalds in the war for healthy diets, Morgan Spurlock has bigger fish to fry here. Worried about bringing his unborn child into a dangerous world, Spurlock decides that if the combined US military have had no success tracking down terrorism's most wanted then, taking his cue from the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones, maybe one man alone might have better luck.
Framed as a computer game featuring fights between a pixellated Spurlock and his nemesis, is Operation Special Delivery a serious attempt to find Bin Laden? Of course not. But it does give an excuse for some special training in handling kidnapping and terrorist threat scenarios.
Played with tongue in moustachioed cheek, they're rather amusing. As is the sight of animated Bin Ladens rapping to MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This.
But if he's not actually looking to pull off the find of the century, what is his documentary about? The motives are a bit woolly, but essentially this is Spurlock travelling around the Middle East asking what folk there think of America ands Americans in order to show his mostly geopolitically illiterate countrymen and woman that ordinary Muslims are basi-cally no different from them. That they want
the same things for their kids - good health, decent education and the chance to grow up in a peaceful world - and generally only know world politics from what they've been told by their governments.
He doesn't quite get everyone to join in with I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing or It's A Small World After All, but the (admittedly uplifting) final credits as his subjects all smile for the camera is pretty much a visual equivalent.
Given the target average American audience, you won't be amazed to find it's not exactly cutting edge politics, the discussions about separating church and state are fuzzy at best. But while Spurlock may equally play the faux ingenue he's a lot better and less smugly self-righteous company than Michael Moore.
And, while the quest to inform feels less important than the quest to entertain, you have to admit that there's a genuine friendliness and warm humanism to many of the encounters that should at least go some way to counteracting the demonising of Muslims by some agencies. And, at least as far as the camera's concerned, most aren't keen on Bin Laden either, saying he gives Islam a bad name.
It's not all group hugs either. As Spurlock visits the likes of Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, there are more prickly moments, most especially in the West Bank where, for the only time in the documentary, he finds himself threatened with real physical violence. By angry anti-American Palestinians? No, by ultra-orthodox Jews.
A toothless political documentary but an en-tertaining lesson in cross-cultural tolerance..