Film reviews: Mr Nice | A Town Called Panic | Life As We Know It | Despicable Me | The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud | Jackboots on Whitehall

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Mr Nice (15) * Directed by: Bernard Rose Starring: Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, Chloe Sevigny

NOT having read the best-selling autobiography of the same name upon which Mr Nice is based, I can't tell if Welsh drug smuggler and latter-day pop culture icon Howard Marks is simply a boring subject for a movie or merely the subject of boring movie. Whatever the case, Mr Nice isn't the wild ride it perhaps should have been given the radically disparate biographical details of his life story depicted here. His journey from swotty child, promising student and bored schoolteacher to drug runner, IRA cohort and MI6 informant is strangely tedious and the ins-and-outs of the drug trade are rendered in a way that is not only dramatically dull, but also at odds with the jocular, somewhat celebratory tone the film adopts. Mr Nice feels like it's supposed to be a farce, but it's never funny or engaging enough to succeed on that level, and nor is it hard-hitting enough to work as a serious exploration of the drug running, despite an admirable attempt by director Bernard Rose to contextualise Marks's story with an alternate cultural history of post-war Britain. It doesn't help either that in playing Marks, Rhys Ifans has opted to give him a charisma bypass.

A Town Called Panic (PG) **

Directed by: Stphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Voices: Stphane Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Vincent Patar

A WORD of warning about A Town Called Panic: inventive though it is, this stop-motion animation from Belgium is sometimes a bit too irreverent for its own good. Thus even with a relatively brief and fast-paced running time of 70 minutes, you may find it outstays its welcome. Then again, you may have a high tolerance for films featuring piano-playing horses, tractor-riding donkeys, kamikaze mad cows and plastic toys trying to build a barbecue out of bricks. The latter is the starting point for a vague, destruction-initiating plot involving squabbling plastic figurine housemates Cowboy and Indian embarking on a journey that takes them to the centre of the Earth and back. Any further attempt to describe the story is probably futile: this is not a film that works by engaging you emotionally with a strong narrative; it's about assaulting you with wacky and absurd visual flourishes and zany gags in the hope you'll go with the free-form chaotic vibe animators Stphane Aubier and Vincent Patar have concocted. Though it probably works best in short bursts on DVD, it might just be wacky and strange enough to appeal to kids who'll simply accept it for what it is.

Life As We Know It (12A) *

Directed by: Greg Berlanti

Starring: Katherine HeigL, Josh Duhamel, Christina Hendricks

THE best that can be said about Life As We Know It is that the character Mad Men's Christina Hendricks plays dies in the first ten minutes, thus sparing her fans the indignity of watching her suffer through the rest of this excruciating rom-com about the joys of enforced parenthood. Hendricks plays Alison, the best friend of single, uptight Holly (Katherine Heigl), a bakery owner to whom Alison has secretly entrusted the guardianship of her baby daughter should she and husband Peter (Hayes MacArthur) ever die in a car accident. Having neglected to inform Holly of her plans for her daughter's future before she and Peter go off and selfishly die in a car accident, Holly's shock is quickly compounded by annoyance when she realises her deceased friends have also indulged in a little matchmaking from beyond the grave by appointing Peter's best friend, Messer (Josh Duhamel), as their daughter's co-guardian. As "meet-cute" scenarios go, it's one of the more sick and twisted ones out there, not least because it takes all of 30 seconds for the film to forget about Holly and Messer's grief and embrace the hilarity of poop-filled nappy montages.

Despicable Me (PG)***

Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Voices: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews

HOW to Train Your Dragon and the astonishing Toy Story 3 have set the animation bar ridiculously high this year, so it's hardly surprising that this sometimes fun but disposable caper is a bit "meh" by comparison. Steve Carell voices Gru, a wannabe evil genius with mummy issues who has hatched a nefarious plan to steal the moon in the hope of besting his arch-nemesis Vector (Jason Segel), a young upstart with a more modern approach to world-dominating villainy. This requires him first to steal back the shrink gun Vector stole from him and, to do so, he enlists the unwitting help of three adorable little orphans who arrive on his doorstep one day selling cookies. What follows is basic family-moralising stuff as the girls start to break down Gru's defences and he reveals a heart of gold beneath his grouchy exterior. Nevertheless, the animation is lively, if derivative, and there are some nice, throw-away gags for older audiences (a sign above the Bank of Evil reads: "Formerly Lehman Brothers"). Once again, though, the 3D seems utterly inconsequential, so save yourself a few quid and seek out a 2D version.

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud (PG) **

Directed by: Burr Steers

Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Charlie Tahan

THIS tearjerking amalgam of Nicholas Sparks and M Night Shyamalan won't do Zac Efron any favours in his attempts to be taken seriously: it plays like it was made solely for older teen girls who've outgrown High School Musical but still want to get lost in his dreamy eyes. Efron-shaped blinkers are certainly a requirement to get past the inanity and insanity of the plot, which casts him as a hotshot sailor whose future dreams are stalled by a car accident that kills his little brother and, for a few minutes, him. Brought back to life by a St Jude-worshipping paramedic (Ray Liotta), Charlie (Efron) discovers he's able to see dead people walking around like regular people, a trick he exploits to salve his guilty conscience by spending five years playing baseball with his deceased brother's ghost. Another random encounter with the now-dying paramedic, though, convinces him that God must have had a purpose in bringing him back to life and, sure enough, a mere five years after that initial accident, a damsel in distress (Amanda Crew) literally sails into his life to give him a chance to lay his ghosts to rest.

Jackboots on Whitehall (12A)*

Directed by: Edward McHenry, Rory McHenry

Voices: Ewan McGregor, Timothy Spall, Rosamund Pike, Alan Cumming

BETTER as a concept than a film, puppet animation movie Jackboots on Whitehall is a thoroughly mirthless, baby-brained attempt to apply the gross-out humour of Team America to an alternate history of the Second World War via an unfunny script and risible voice acting from a cast that should know better. Chief among that cast is Ewan McGregor, whose reliably awful instincts are thoroughly in evidence as the voice of the film's hero, an orphan with unusually big hands who has grown up in England. After the Nazis tunnel into London, he finds himself leading a rescue effort to save Winston Churchill and fend off a full-scale invasion of Britain by retreating north with a small band of outlaws and taking refuge in the barbaric environs of Scot Land. Here, co-writers and co-directors Edward and Rory McHenry get to unleash what they clearly believe is the going to be the film's never-before-seen, show-stopping comic set-piece: a pastiche of… wait for it… Braveheart, in which William Wallace is – get this – Australian. Crazy.

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