Film reviews: The Way | Take Me Home Tonight | Red Hill | Outside the Law | How I Ended This Summer

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Our critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...

The Way (12A) **

Directed by: Emilio Estevez

Starring: Martin Sheen, DeboraH Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez

THE enduring appeal of Martin Sheen usually goes a long way to making anything he's in seem like a worthwhile endeavour, but it doesn't quite go far enough to prevent this well-intentioned drama by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez from straying into the kind of trite self-help territory that tends to wreck any film about a set-in-their-ways protagonist venturing out into the world for the first time. Cast as Tom, a somewhat conservative opthalmologist whose estranged son Dan (Estevez) has been killed while travelling the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route, Sheen's admirable efforts to keep sentimentality at bay are undercut somewhat by Estevez's clumsy script and uneven direction. Theme-telegraphing pearls of wisdom ("You don't choose a life; you live one") pour out of the mostly one-dimensional characters at regular intervals as the reluctant-to-be-helped Tom impulsively decides to honour his late son by completing his journey. His own enlightenment duly follows, but beyond the occasional beautiful background shot of the surrounding countryside, the film fails to make a compelling case for why we're being asked to join him on this particular trip.

Take Me Home Tonight (15) **

Directed by: Michael Dowse

Starring: Topher Grace, Anna Farris, Dan Fogler

EVEN allowing for the fact that Take Me Home Tonight has been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, stars Topher Grace (who also co-wrote the story), Anna Farris and Dan Fogler are all about a decade too old to be playing 22-year-olds trying to figure out what to do with their lives. That, however, merely adds to the air of desperation hovering over this drippy 1980s-set coming-of-age comedy, the period setting of which seems like a rather hopeful attempt to draw favourable comparisons with the films of John Hughes. Seemingly random soundtrack cues (early Duran Duran, NWA's Straight Outta Compton), half-remembered fashion details (a rolled-up jacket sleeve here, an abundance of hairspray there), and obligatory cocaine usage all fail to evoke the era with any authority, while the characters' mild nobody-really-understands-me angst grows more intolerable as the film's one-night-can-change-your-life structure progresses. As a maths whiz too habitually scared to take a chance on anything in his life, Grace is particularly wet, lacking the charisma or the charm to pull off the shy nerd-at-heart routine needed to convince you he could actually win the girl of his dreams.

Red Hill (15) **

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis, Claire van der Boom

THIS modern-day Australian Western starts off like a lean, mean Walter Hill movie but ends up going a bit Blazing Saddles. It's not meant to be a comedy, but the cheeseball script, winking nods to genre convention and hokey plotting sabotage an impressively terse and stunningly shot first half that sees the titular town put on lockdown after a prison break results in the escape of a deadly Aboriginal convict (Tommy Lewis) whom the police are convinced is on his way home to settle old scores. True Blood's Ryan Kwanten is the new-in-town cop who starts smelling a rat with the townfolks' version of events and, sure enough, as the feared killer goes on a violent rampage, all the town's dirty secrets start to surface. Alas, any chance of this being any more complex than an old-school black hats/white hats western is quickly sabotaged by first-time writer/director Patrick Hughes's inability to transcend genre convention, or even deliver some efficient enough action to make the myriad clichs seem irrelevant. Indeed, when the bullets start flying, the unintentional parody becomes more pronounced, with proceedings further derailed by a cheap-shot dnouement.

Outside the Law (15) ***

Directed by: Rachid Bouchareb

Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila

AFTER his modest drama about the 7 July London bombings, London River, French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb returns to the politically-charged historical sweep of his Oscar-nominated Second World War film Days of Glory with this epic tale of three brothers caught up in Algeria's struggle for independence from France. Set over the course of nearly four decades, the fictionalised story begins with the brothers bearing witness to their father being thrown off his family's land by unsympathetic colonial officials. From there, it quickly flashes forward to the 1945 Stif massacre, when French authorities slaughtered Algerian protesters in the street. With the seeds of discontent well and truly sown in each brother, the film follows their fates as they separately end up in France, where further hardship, discontent and disrespect fuels their varying levels of involvement in the Algerian underground. Giving his actors, Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila, the same names – though not the same histories – as the characters they played in Days of Glory, Bouchareb makes subtle points here about the damaging legacy of colonial rule. Unfortunately, the sheer breadth of the story – which ultimately explores how the political and the personal can collide in tragic ways – means the plot sometimes jumps ahead in distracting fashion, although Bouchareb deserves credit for making such complex story as accessible as he does.

How I Ended This Summer (12A) ***

Directed by: Aleksei Popogrebsky

Starring: Grigory Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepalis

THIS oddball Russian survival movie has been a big hit on the festival circuit – winning major prizes at Berlin and London – but its appeal and acclaim seems predicated more on the mood it creates than any kind of narrative logic or plot cohesion. Set amid the isolated environs of an Arctic weather centre occupied by two men, it revolves around Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin), a callow student who becomes trapped in a psychological hell of his own making after failing to pass on a piece of bad news to his grizzled and middle-aged superior Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis). The unsettling atmosphere that ensues is largely down to director Aleksei Popogrebsky's unwillingness to supply too much motivation for his characters' actions. Alas, as the implications of Pavel's deceit escalate and force him to go on the run in the harsh wilderness, this also becomes part of the film's problem. Though gripping for large stretches, the lack of forthcoming information – especially with regards to Pavel – proves more frustrating than enigmatic, with the tension dissipating at crucial moments.

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