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(18) 137 mins ***

Alarm bells rang when Adrian Lyne announced that he was making a screen version of Lolita. What would the lubricous director of 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal do with Nabokov’s tale of an emotionally arrested middle-aged man's passion for a twelve-year-old nymphet? Well, after months of tabloid speculation and abuse, the film has finally reached British screens. Has Lyne made a sensitive adaptation of a literary classic or a paedophile’s wet dream?

The initial signs are not good. When Jeremy Irons’ Humbert Humbert, a European academic visiting New England, first glimpses Lolita, the daughter of his prospective landlady, she is stretched out langorously on the lawn beneath a garden sprinkler, her wet cotton dress clinging semi- transparently to her body. She looks up from the movie fan magazine she is reading and flashes a smile at Humbert, revealing a set of braces on her teeth. At a stroke, Lyne establishes Lolita's childishness and turns her into a sex object.

But Lyne is aiming to tell a moral tale, and his film (as does the book) explicitly shows the cost of the illicit relationship that develops between Humbert and Lolita. The sex scenes are handled, by Lyne’s standards, with a degree of restraint, but the film nevertheless eroticises Humbert and Lolita's relationship in a way that Nabokov's book, with its teasing, euphemistic prose, does not.

Although the film loses most of Nabokov’s complex irony, it does at times mine a rich vein of comic innuendo. 'ls she keeping you up?’ enquires Melanie Griffith's would-be genteel Mrs Haze to her new lodger. In other scenes, the film captures some of the novel's

Forbidden fruit: Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain in Lolita

appalled fascination with the vibrant vulgarity of American culture.

But while attempting to remain faithful to the book, the film can’t help creating a different tone. Humbert's final encounter with his demonic alter ego and fellow nympholept, Quilty (Frank Langella), is grotesque on the page but on screen it comes across as absurd grand guignol.

Much more worrying, however, is the way the film focuses on Humbert at the expense of Lolita such is lrons' authority at portraying pervy angst. In the end, despite a fine performance by fifteen-year-old newcomer Dominique Swain, the film affords more sympathy to the anguish of the adult abuser rather than the pain of the child victim. (Jason Best)

a General release from Fri 15 May.

American friend: Joseph Fiennes and Monica Potter in Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence

complicates everything. By making the audience aware that they have not been getting the full picture during the other stories, it almost demands that we watch the film over again. It's the raison d’étre of whodunits and thrillers in the vein of The Usual Suspects to second-guess us in this way, but romantic comedy is shaky ground for such games.

Whether the narrative trickery makes you want to praise screenwriter Peter Morgan or bury him depends largely on the quality of the preceding hour. in the end, Frank and Daniel are little more than comic foils and, despite the and

Martha Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence (15) 88 mins 1% i *

Director Nick Hamm's cleverly turned, though cumbersomely titled romantic drama revolves around the effect of one woman on the lives of three disparate friends. Martha (the winsome Monica Potter) escapes her dead-end existence in Minneapolis by flying one- way to London with only $99 in her pocket. During two days in the capital she encounters, separately and unknowingly, three best buddies

22 'l’llEIJST 30 Apr-l4 May 1998

Daniel (Tom Hollander), a self-preening music executive, Frank (Rufus Sewell), an egotistical unemployed actor, and sensitive Laurence (Joseph Fiennes) all of whom are instantly smitten.

Told in flashback by Laurence, this is, at first glance, a simple comic triptych about fate and missed chances. Daniel starts off on the trail of another sexual conquest and is bewildered to find himself in love, while Frank is unable to transcend his neverending one- upmanship contest with Daniel on realising Martha’s identity.

However, Laurence's tale, told last,

spot-on casting of Sewell Hollander (who never plays nice guys), they increasrngly becomes tiresome rather than diverting.

Fiennes the younger does the shy and brooding type with winning ease, although occasionally his character just needs a kick up the backside. Pretty but self-effacmg, Potter is a potential star with fine comic timing and a greater acting range than, say, Sandra Bullock. She alone prevents the film from opting for either slapstick or slush. (Simon Wardell)

l Selected release from Fri 8 May.

The Big Lebowski

(18) 113 mins ****

The excellent latest offering from the Coen brothers treads a familiar narrative landscape in their distinctively skewed gait. In a wry slant on Raymond Chandler and film noir we are shown not L.A.'s dark alleys, but rather its bowling alleys; and instead of The Big Sleep we have The Big Lebowski.

Jeff Bridges is admirable as the Philip Marlowe figure, here reworked as 705 throwback 'the Dude' principled pacifist, pothead and idler extraordinaire who is lifted from his penniless serenity and pitched into the dubious affairs of his Pasadena namesake Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston). This Lebowski the Big Lebowski is a middle-aged, paraplegic millionaire whose rapacious bimbette wife Bunny (Tara Reid) is way too hot for him.

First her debts mistakenly bring two hoods down on the Dude, and then the Big Lebowski asks him to be the bagman when Bunny is kidnapped, apparently by a gang of German nihilists.

The Dude would rather hang out with his bowling buddies, obsessive, loud- mouthed Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) and mouse-like ex-surfer Donny (Steve Buscemi). But egged on by Walter and his own conscience, the Dude ends up sleuthing his way through an exasperating trail of disorganised crime. Along the way, he's kept on his toes by a series of bizarre encounters with the Ubergang, with - soft porn magnate Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), and with Lebowski’s daughter, the preposterous avant-garde painter Maude (Julianne Moore).

The Coens’ show off the full range of their comic virtuosity in The Big Lebowski, creating another baffling assortment of oddballs and predicaments which are both ludicrous and compelling, The brothers' penchant for sumptuous and surreal imagery reaches its zenith too, with Bridges dressed in a tradesman’s white jumpsuit for an extravagant Busby Berkeley dream-sequence.

John Goodman's performance deserves special mention, John Turturro gets a stylish cameo as firebrand bowling rival, Jesus Quintana, and Sam Elliot adds the final touch with his impossibly gravel-toned, rambling, cowboy narration. A definite strike. (John MacKenzie)

I Selected release from Fri 8 May.

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Who's who: John Goodman in The Big Lebowski