Mike Davies reviews the latest films

BODY OF LIES * * * *
Cert 15 128 min
Packing on the weight, Russell Crowe’s fourth film with Ridley Scott and his first with Leonardo DiCaprio takes its political cynicism about America’s Middle East involvement from Syriana and its spy movie action from Bourne.

DiCaprio is Roger Ferris, an Arab-speaking CIA agent working the war on terror frontline in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Back in Langley, his morally pragmatic handler, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), keeps tabs on everything via spy satellites and cell phones. Determined to keep America in play, he’s willing to sacrifice agents and alliances or subvert operations. Crucially, that involves Ferris’ plan to smoke out the terrorist behind recent bombings by fabricating a rival organisation, faking evidence and setting up an unwitting innocent architect as its head.

As Hoffman’s manipulative interference threatens those involved, including Ferris’ love interest Amman nurse, and the fragile co-operation of urbane Jordanian security chief Salaam (Mark Strong), Ferris becomes increasingly disillusioned with his job and the CIA’.

The narrative may become contrived in its breakneck plot twists and turns, but Scott keeps a tight rein on the gritty explosive action and character interplay, eliciting electrifying counterpointed performances from DiCaprio, Crowe and Strong.

Ultimately, there’s less substance behind the smoke than it would have you believe, but the adrenaline kick is ample compensation.

CHOKE * * *
Cert 18 92 mins
Adapted from Chuck 'Fight Club' Palahniuk’s novel, Clark Gregg’s directorial debut is a blackly comic but not always focused examination of dysfunction, mother-son relationships, sexual compulsion and Catholic guilt.

Sam Rockell’s the weasly Victor, a Colonial theme park re-enactor and sex addict who can’t keep from falling off the wagon, especially during rehab.

He also runs a scam pretending to choke so wealthy marks will save him and give him the money which funds the care of dementia-afflicted mother Anjelica Huston in a private mental hospital.

Passing off fellow addict Brian William Henke as himself, he obtains her cryptic diary which, according to medical researcher Kelly Macdonald, reveals he shares

Christ’s genetic material. She says she can use that as a cure, but first he’ll have to get her pregnant.

Between Huston hamming flashbacks to Victor’s on-the-run childhood, abandoned to then be plucked from foster homes, the behaviour of mum’s fellow patients, Macdonald’s secret and a subplot involving the supercilious theme park boss, it’s all bizarrely convoluted and lacking sympathetic characters. It is, however, a frequently wildly funny warped romcom about human perversity, love and redemption.

Cert 12A 78 mins
As with his debut, Large, Birmingham writer-director Justin Edgar’s latest has been extended from a short. Pretentious failed director Jasper (Dominic Coleman doing Steve Coogan) sets out to make a film with the three wheelchair-bound students who comprise his film course class; prickly Jess (Robyn Frampton), aspiring auteur Scott (David Proud) and surly self-loathing Dave (Jason Maza).

A simple plot about Jess trying to wheel herself up hill as a metaphor for disability, the day-long countryside shoot descends into fiasco while the trio suss the project is more about Jasper’s last gasp ambitions than them.

A sub-plot involving the embittered Dave’s cruel dismissal of love interest Anais (Sasha Hardway) as a cripple, feels a little forced, but otherwise, largely improvised by its impressive and mostly disabled cast, it has a sharp sarcastic humour and unsentimentally pertinent observations about patronising political correctness.

Cert 18 89 mins
Given the track record for Hollywood remakes, you’d expect the worst from this shot-by-shot copy of Spanish thriller [rec] that relocates the action to LA. Good news, then, it’s quite good.

Accompanying firemen Jake (Jay Hernandez), George (Johnathon Schaech), and their crew on a call out, TV reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) find an old woman’s locked herself in her flat. Things quickly turn nasty when the old dear bites a chunk from a cop’s neck and a firemen plummets down the stairwell.

Next thing they know, the authorities are sealing them in, there’s armed guards round the building and a mutant strain of rabies is turning residents into cannibalistic crazies as the infection spreads. As the terror mounts, Angela continues to interview survivors, a feverish seven-year-old girl among them.

Again filmed from the cameraman’s hand-held perspective (this time you do see his face), the frenzied movement can become incoherent, but does capture the mounting panic, not to mention graphic gore (including zombie kids) which, in a blackly comic addition, now features someone being beaten to death with the camera lens.

If you’ve seen [rec], it won’t hold the same impact, but those coming to it fresh can look forward to real scares and an ending that may require a change of underwear.

Cert 18 120 mins
When an unnamed American city’s residents inexplicably start becoming blind, their vision a milky whiteness, a panicky government responds by quarantining them under armed guard inside an old mental health facility.

Among the equally unnamed inmates is the doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who treated the first victim, along with the patients in his waiting room at the time, including a boy, Woman With Dark Glasses (Alice Braga) and Man With Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover). His wife (Julianne Moore) is there too. She, however, can still see, a fact she keeps from the other afflicted and the authorities to act as guide and witness. As the epidemic spreads, the

place becomes overcrowded and supplies short. Inevitably, Lord of the Flies-style factions arise with a new arrival (Gael Garcia Bernal) taking command of rations, exploiting the weak by demanding payment for food, first in valuables and then with sex.

As tragedy, retribution and conflict strike, Moore’s makeshift family eventually escape, finding themselves in, respectively, a city fallen apart, George Romero zombie pastiche and sentimental denouement.

Built on existential metaphor, Jose Saramajo’s novel about humanity under siege was deemed unfilmable for reasons Fernando Meirelles’ often incoherent adaptation makes abundantly clear.

The ‘whiteouts’ and scenes played in virtual darkness are far less effective. Not trusting audiences to join the dots, the screenplay insists in using Glover’s philosophical commentary and exposition to spell out the message for the allegory impaired.

Cert 18 87 mins subtitled
During military service, director Ari Folman was stationed in the Lebanon, yards from the refugee camps where, following the 1982 assassination of President Bashir Gemayel, Palestinian civilians were massacred by Christian militia while Israeli troops stood by.

Realising he’d blotted out all memories of the incident, he set out to interview fellow soldiers to try and recall what happened and does so in exemplary fashion.

Cert 15 100 mins
Running a lucrative sideline as the date from hell, hired to send women running gratefully back into the arms of their exes, commitment-phobe Dane Cook agrees to help out best buddy Jason Biggs who wants workmate Kate Hudson to see him as more as a friend.

Things backfire, of course, when, having decided what she needs is some no strings sex, Hudson actually embraces Cook’s obnoxious behaviour. Confused at having the tables turned, he, naturally, finds himself falling for her, thereby setting the scene for assorted confrontations, self-recriminations and redemptions when the truth emerges.

Cook remains an immensely resistible romantic lead, Biggs serves warmed over American Pie and Hudson gives charm a bypass. The Jesus Crust Pizza Parlour is an amusing concept and Alec Baldwin steals scenes as Cook’s sleazy, chauvinist  father, but the sour taste of the film’s rampant misogyny is hard to swallow.