Film reviews: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen | Ecstasy | Elles | Blackthorn | Lockout

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starring Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starring Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt
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Alistair Harkness and Mike McCahill offer their views on the films now screening in the cinemas

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (12A)

Directed by: Lasse Hallström

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, KristIn Scott Thomas, Amr Waked

Rating: *

JUST when Beginners seemed to suggest that Ewan McGregor was on the verge of once again being more than just a charming chat show guest with a raft of terrible movies to promote, along comes Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Cast as the tweed-wearing, sandwich-carrying, mild-mannered hero of this woefully unfunny, grindingly twee adaptation of Paul Torday’s best-selling novel, McGregor acts as if he’s been time-warped into modern-day Scotland from the 1950s.

Granted, his fishing-obsessed civil servant is supposed to be a bit old-fashioned, but McGregor takes the repressed Presbyterian thing a bit far, playing him with almost Rain Man levels of social awkwardness. It is, of course, all a set-up for a cutesy, unlikely romance with a management consultant (Emily Blunt) whose efforts to help a wealthy sheik (Amr Waked) breed Scottish salmon in the Middle East require his expertise.

Alas, Swedish saccharin addict Lasse Hallström’s sensibilities are all wrong and he amplifies how bad McGregor is with goofy assassination subplots, some mild political satire and a fairly queasy attempt to up the film’s dramatic and romantic stakes by having the McGregor/Blunt romance played out against the backdrop of third-world people being killed by sabotage-happy terrorist extremists out to ruin the fun. As bad as it sounds.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy (18)

Directed by: Rob Heydon

Starring: Adam Sinclair, Kristin Kreuk, Billy Boyd

Rating: *

IF THE publication of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting prequel Skagboys has made you nostalgic for the author’s brilliant early prose, the opportunistically timed release of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy in cinemas serves as a reminder of the moment his books started to lose some of their punch.

A Canadian production shot partially on location in Edinburgh, it’s a belated and dated attempt to bring one of the stories contained within Welsh’s slapdash 1996 Chemical Romance triptych to the big screen.

Based on Ecstasy’s longest story, it revolves around Lloyd (Adam Sinclair), an ageing Leith clubber who begins to suspect there may be more to life than dealing drugs and popping party pills after falling for Heather (Kristin Kreuk), a frustrated Canadian office drone who has walked out on her boring husband to find herself in the midst of the local rave scene. The script’s eulogistic appraisal of ecstasy as a love-drug capable of taking users to higher states of consciousness all sounds drearily quaint, while the absence of specific period detail fails to say anything interesting about the either the 1990s rave scene (when Es were the scourge of the government and the tabloids) or today’s youth culture.

Elles (18)

Directed by: Malgorzata Szumowska

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig

Rating: **

STARRING Juliette Binoche as a dissatisfied magazine writer who gains new insights into her petit bourgeois existence while researching an article on prostitution, Elles is yet another dreary, cliché-ridden art house exploration of the sex industry that has nothing new to say. Naïvely reinforcing a variation on what comedian Chris Rock once identified as “the stripper myth”, it contends that respectable college girls are turning to the oldest profession to fund their studies in expensive, modern-day Paris.

Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska’s dubious film scorns men for their casual acceptance of the idea that women should always be on hand to satisfy their sexual peccadilloes, yet she undercuts her point by exploiting the willingness of actresses Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig to bare all as their characters engage in explicit, beautifully shot, largely consequence-free sexual encounters with handsome older men in high-end hotel rooms. Apparently these young women operate unhindered by the despicable and viscous pimps and thugs who enslave girls in prostitution rings in major cities. When Binoche’s character drunkenly gets intimate with one of her interviewees, it further exposes the film as a salacious fantasy, not dissimilar to Anne Fontain’s trashy 2003 film Nathalie, but minus any awareness of its own ridiculousness.

Blackthorn (18)

Directed by: Mateo Gil

Starring: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Magaly Solier

Rating: ***

WE’VE had Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. Now Blackthorn gives us “Butch Cassidy: The Elegiac and Slightly Plodding Retirement Years”. Riffing on what might have happened if we assume Paul Newman hadn’t died in a hail of gunfire, this revisionist western finds Cassidy (played by Sam Shepard) living a somewhat quieter life in Bolivia as a rancher called James Blackthorn. Contemplating a return to the US, his plans are interrupted by a charismatic thief (Eduardo Noriega) whose ability to talk himself out of trouble after causing Blackthorn to lose all his money convinces the roguish outlaw to take up with him for one last job.

Blackthorn’s nostalgia for the old days are indicated by numerous flashbacks to his escape into the Bolivian hinterland, something Spanish screenwriter-turned director Mateo Gil uses to emphasise how the old unquenchable thirst for adventure might be blinding him to the reality of his current situation.

The true cost of exile isn’t particularly well served by this approach, however, largely because it takes screen time away from Shepard, whose grizzled, stoic turn pays tribute to Newman’s take on the character and makes the film more compelling than it’s predictable plotting deserves.

ALISTAIR HARKNESS

Lockout (15)

Directed by: James Mather, Stephen St Leger

Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun

Rating: **

GUY Pearce gets to tick the “Wisecracking Action Hero” box in his I-Spy Book of Diverse Modern Acting Choices with this very ordinary futuristic thriller, which an opening credit asserts is “based on an original idea by Luc Besson”. Well, you decide. It’s 2079, and Pearce’s crook Snow has been dispatched by the CIA to rescue the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace, reprising the damsel-in-distress role she played in Taken), who’s had the misfortune to visit a maximum security prison orbiting the Earth on the very day scuzzy Scottish siblings (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun) have decided to overrun the facility.

Its tongue is unmistakably in its cheek but Lockout has nothing much else in its head: rote plot reversals, lumpen exposition, and a scrambled wraparound story that suggests major recutting in post-production. Pearce, a genuine trouper, gets the debutant directors’ sniggering tone and almost holds it all together, but Snow is less a character than a pile of sporadically funny quips. Shot in Serbia, with a mostly European supporting cast adopting American accents, it looks and sounds like what it is: reconstituted DVD fodder that’s wandered into cinemas by mistake.

MIKE MCCAHILL