Fairground attraction: Tom McCamus and Sarah Polley in The Sweet Hereafter

The Sweet Hereafter (15) 110 mins 1H: kart

Adapted from Russell Banks's novel about a small community torn apart by a school bus accident that claims the lives of most of its children, Canadian director Atom Egoyan's latest film pulls off that most difficult feat combining heavyweight thematic concerns with an engrossing, absorbing storyline.

Unfolding in a patchwork of flashbacks and set-pieces, The Sweet Hereafter adopts an almost mystical approach to its central premise: the deeply rooted emotions surrounding children. Egoyan’s own fatherhood, as revealed in his recent contribution to BBC2’s Picture This series, plays an important role here.

The grief-stricken town contantly likened to the Hamelin of the Pied Piper folk tale is disturbed by the

arrival of Ian Holm's ambiguous lawyer. He's able to tout for business by carefully discerning each family's weak spot and encouraging them to sue for compensation, but it's quickly made clear that he has family troubles of his own and that his motivations are born out of unlikely principles.

Holm’s beautifully judged performance is the bedrock of the film, but Egoyan’s eye for the snowbound landscape provides a chilly visual counterpoint. What elevates this into the masterwork class is the same network of obsessive emotional interdependence that made The Adjuster so uncannily penetrating and Exotica so popular (but flashy). As a study of helpless grief, it’s rarely been bettered. (Andrew Pulver)

I Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 26 Sep. See feature, page 22

All tied up: Cameron Diaz in Head Above Water

Head Above Water (15)92mins* While it's easy to see why

producer/director Jim Wilson wanted to remake Norwegian filmmaker Nils Gaup's taut, black comic thriller Hodet Over Vannet, it’s hard to fathom how he and his talented cast misjudged its tone so disastrously

The plot outline is Virtually identical. Left alone at a remote holiday beach house, while her judge husband (Harvey KeiteI) and local childhood friend (Craig Sheffer) go fishing, ex- party girl Cameron Diaz is vrsited by old flame Billy Zane, whose naked dead body she finds on the couch next morning. The hiding and disposing of

said corpse is the engine for what could have been a Hitchcockian thriller, but which instead degenerates into a laughably implausible farce.

Keitel is a fish out of water, twice over: he looks as uncomfortable on the beach here as he did in Mean Streets, and is absurdly miscast as a pipe- chewing father figure. Diaz looks good in her one-piece yellow swrmsuit, but her proven acting talents are wasted on a script that relies on ludicrous human behavrour and mechanical plotting the latter sign-posted throughout by Christopher Young's ridiculously over-emphatic score. Head Above Water? Destined to sink without trace more like. (Nigel Floyd)

I Selected release from Fri 3 Oct.

new releases FILM

Jackie Chan's First Strike (12) 84 mins **

Although it sounds like a cigarette, Jackie Chan's latest attempt to conquer Hollywood merely shows itself to be the fag end of a prodigious talent. No more than a series of set- pieces linked by a kind of low budget travelogue, the story fails to give full rein to its star's astonishing gymnastic skills and fearless approach to performing his own stunts. Except for a truly eye-popping fight sequence involving dozens of opponents and a step-ladder, an encounter with a shark and a ski jump onto a helicopter, Chan’s performance is a pale shadow of his best Hong Kong movies.

The st0ry, such as it is, casts him as a Hong Kong cop following rogue former-KGB officers who have stolen a nuclear warhead, a journey that takes him from the icy wastes of Ukraine to'the sunny urban streets of Australia. Along the way he is recruited by the CIA, but even this undoubted superstar is unable to do much to prevent this disaster from ending up every bit as limp as it began.

Perfunctory, routine and utterly disappointing, only the cheery Jackie persona remains from his best films. But even the hapless mugging and perennial fall-guy routine wears a bit thin at the end of a very long 84 minutes. (Anwai' Brett)

I Limited release from Fri 3 Oct.

Jackie Chan delivers his First Strike

The Square Circle (15) 110 mins hunk

Kidnapped into prostitution by a madam and her henchmen, then gang-raped by three macho louts when she manages to escape, Sonali Kulkarni's unnamed protagonist experiences the worst that rural India has to offer a single woman. Unlikely salvation is at hand in the form of male transvestite Nirmal Pandey, a wandering entertainer who’s obviously been around a bit himself. Having found his own identity though dressing as a woman, he comes up with the idea of putting her in men's clothes so they can pass as a 'straight’ c0uple and travel the country roads in relative safety on her journey home.

Certainly, screenwriter Timeri N. Murari has come up with a richly resonant central conceit, and it's quite remarkable to see it in popular lndian cinema, an area thus far off limits for arthouse UK distributors and audiences alike. Amol Palekar’s direction is fairly rough and ready to Western eyes, but it really does play every emotion to the hilt.

Most scintillating, however, is the daring content, exploring the tension between sexual identity and socral circumstance in a staunchly traditional socrety that offers little room for manoeuvre. The landscape may be unfamiliar, but the human dilemmas definitely aren't. From out of nowhere, an inspirational movie. (Trevor Johnston)

I Edinburgh: Filmhouse, Mon 29 Sep—Thu 2 Oct. Stirling: MacRobert, Thu 2 Oct.


The Leading Man

(15) 100 mins

Jon Bon Jovi continues his diversion into the cinema (after a smaller role in Moonlight And Valentino), starring as a cocksure American actor who takes time out from Hollywood to make his London stage debut. A master seducer, he fits well into the two- timing luvvie milieu, offering to bed the playwright's wife in order to distract her from her husband’s affair with the production’s young female star. Of course, none of the emotions run true to the plan.

Reports of Bon Jovrs acting ability have been, well, mixed: on the plus side is his natural confidence and rock star charisma, but his delivery of dialogue isn't quite so convincing. Director John Duigan isn’t on as sure a footing as he was with The Year My Voice Broke or its sequel Flirting, but here he does renew his working partnership with the latter’s young British star, Thandie Newton.

Sight 8! Sound reckon the film is ’a small, ingenious fable about cultural imperialism', but that it’s ’diverting for a while, yet wrnding down to nothing' Anyone who has participated in the purchase of around 77 million Bon Jovi albums worldwide might not be so critical. (Alan Morrison)

I Limited release from Fri 26 Sep.

Jon Bon Jovi in The Leading Man

26 Sep-9 Oct 1997 THE “ST 29