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Film reviews: Meet the Parents: Little Fockers | Gulliver's Travels | Chatroom | On Tour | Arthur and the Great Adventure

Meet the Parents: Little Fockers (12a)* Directed by: Paul Weitz Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba

SIX YEARS on from the previous movie – and a whopping ten since the first film – this third instalment in the still-not- funny Meet the Parents franchise doesn't even make a pretence of coming up with a decent justification for a new film.

In place of a decent script, Little Fockers (and the film is not as child-focused as that title implies) relies instead on brand recognition, and the hope that audiences will vaguely recall enjoying the previous films enough to shell out good money to see this one. If they do they'll be treated to yet more groaning spoonerisms based on the Focker family surname, more farcical misunderstandings, some unconvincing marital tension caused by Jessica Alba stripping down to her bra and pants, and one scene featuring Robert De Niro – that's Robert De Niro, the greatest actor of his generation™ – having an adrenaline shot administered to his erect penis by Ben Stiller while his character's grandson watches in horror.

Yes ladies and gentleman, you read that correctly: Robert De Niro is now doing knob gags. That focker will do anything for a paycheck. AH

Gulliver's Travels (PG)*

Directed by: Rob Letterman

Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly

TRANSFORMING Jonathan Swift's satirical masterwork into a lazy star vehicle for Jack Black, this latest re-imagining finds him devil-horning his way through the most famous part of Swift's story while vomiting forth standard movie platitudes about standing tall and following your dreams. His Gulliver is a newspaper mailroom employee too gutless to tell the travel editor (Amanda Peet) that he's in love with her. Instead he tries to impress her by blagging a writing assignment and winds up the big man in Lilliput after getting lost at sea. It's a fairly specious way into the story, and sadly the film doesn't improve as Gulliver ingratiates himself with Lilliput's finger-sized inhabitants (among them Billy Connolly and Emily Blunt) by saving them from an invading army and regaling them with tales of derring-do cribbed from his favourite movies – a plot device that allows backers 20th Century Fox to cross-promote its roster of hits with blatant shout-outs to Avatar, Titanic and Star Wars just in time for Christmas. Rubbish-looking CG effects fail to enliven proceedings, though the comedy bar-lowering sight of Gulliver relieving himself to extinguish a fire at least works as a potent symbol of the film's attitude to classic literature. AH

Chatroom (15)**

Directed by: Hideo Nakata

Starring: Aaron Johnson, Imogen Poots

IN A WORLD dominated by Twitter and Facebook, the notion teenagers might still use a primitive social networking tool such as a chatroom to keep in touch with one another is almost as ludicrous as expecting them to listen to music on tapes and CDs. Unfortunately this adaptation of Enda Walsh's 2005 stage play persists with its dated concept and further alienates itself from anything approaching credibility with a literal recreation of the chatroom environment as a series of interconnected rooms decked out in the kind of character-defining dcor that makes subtle writing and good acting unnecessary. Aaron Johnson leads the cast of Breakfast Club-style stereotypes who meet online to offer one another anonymous support as they negotiate such devastating coming-of-age issues as hating one's best friends/parents/self. Of course, this being a film about the online world, nothing-is-what-it-seems scaremongering soon takes over, but even Ring's Hideo Nakata – here making his English language debut – fails to drum up much in the way of tension from the plot's hoky attempt to exploit fears about the existence of online suicide clubs. AH

On Tour ***

Directed by: Mathieu Amalric

Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Miranda Colclasure, Suzanne Ramsey

Hot on the heels of last week's Burlesque comes a rather more sedate and realistic insight into the revival of interest in vaudevillian-style raunchiness. Ubiquitous French actor Mathieu Amalric directs and stars in this quasi-documentary style drama as a down-on-his-luck impressario who has returned from America with a troupe of dancers he's hoping to make big in Paris. Touring the provinces while trying to set up dates, it's a distinctly glamour-free film, and all the better for it, with Amalric mixing lively performance scenes with the drab off-stage realities to reinforce how tough it is to make a living on the fringes of the entertainment world.

Shooting in a mixture of French and English, Amalric also uses the scenario to explore the tension that exists between French and American culture. The American dancers, for instance, all speak French and are desperate to get out and explore the local vicinities, yet Amalric's character takes his own kids to eat at KFC and laments his failure to make it big in the US.

As the film builds towards its downbeat conclusion, it may be guilty of reinforcing some of the same surrogate family clichs as Burlesque, but its naturalistic approach means they at least don't feel like clichs. AH

Arthur and the Great Adventure (PG)**

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow

Even those generous enough to have rescued 2007's part-animated Arthur and the Invisibles from a DVD bargain bin would likely concede there wasn't much call for a sequel. Here's one, anyway, intended as the centre part of a trilogy – already, you can see the dust settling on the box-set. Highmore's Arthur receives another missive from the troll-like Minimoys, alerting him to renewed danger: old nemesis Maltazard has plans to manifest in the "real" world. The latter's adopted human face – think Vincent Price with leprosy – might disturb sensitive parents, let alone children. While the live action evokes Besson's usual faux-Americana, the animation plumps for manic spectacle, voiced by credibility-shedding musicians. Aboard the bandwagon this time: Iggy Pop (as a grunting henchman), will.i.am and Fergie, in the unlikely event anybody needed more Black Eyed Peas in their life. Most dismaying for some will be hearing Lou Reed as the voice of Maltazard, mouthing such apposite lines as "I was once a warrior … Now look at me – a ghost of my former self." That Leonard Cohen/Wiggles collaboration can now only be a matter of time. MM

 
 
 

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