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Movies: Identity crisis

ONE of the great staples of American comedy down the decades has been the premise of putting a completely incompatible couple together, having fate throw them a series of mishaps which cause chaos on a long-distance journey and, hopefully, comedy gold will ensue.

 

The template was established back in 1934 when Frank Capra's It Happened One Night saw Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in an enchanting screwball comedy which has rarely been bettered. Not that there haven't been several noble efforts, with Steve Martin and John Candy getting on each other's nerves in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin irritating each other in Midnight Run – and Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis made a decent stab at the genre with Due Date.

 

Alas, another by-the-numbers reboot was on the cards and, sure enough, we're saddled with this atrocious excuse for a film.

 

OBNOXIOUS

 

Jason Bateman is usually a safe pair of hands in middling romcoms but, given that he's also listed as a producer here, he has no excuse for this slack and unfocused effort.

 

Bateman plays a safe-as-houses financial expert from Denver, whose life falls apart when he gives his financial details over the phone to a woman claiming to be from a credit card protection company.

 

The woman turns out to be Diana (Melissa McCarthy), an obnoxious creature who squanders the cash of unsuspecting victims without a thought for the misery she's causing. Somehow we're supposed to find her quirky and endearing. She's not.

 

The nonsensical plot involves Bateman travelling to Florida to bring Diana to Colorado in order to prove his innocence to the police and his employers, but she happens to have two assassins (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip Harris) and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) on her trail.

 

By turns vulgar, unpleasant and mawkishly sentimental, Identity Thief piles nonsensical subplots on to its already shaky framework, leaving Bateman and McCarthy (completely squandering the goodwill she banked with Bridesmaids) floundering in a mishmash which never raises so much as a single laugh. A bad, bad movie. */****

Compliance (Drama)

Whenever the phrase 'inspired by true events' appears on screen before a movie, one can usually be forgiven for generating a healthy amount of scepticism for what's about to follow, given that film-makers are wont to play fast and loose with facts if it means delivering a decent story to the public. However, writer-director Craig Zobel has taken a string of events which occurred just over a decade ago to fashion a gripping and thought-provoking psychological drama.

 

In more than 70 events spread over 30 states, callers to fast-food outlets pretended to be police officers or other authority figures and persuaded staff to search fellow employees, usually young female co-workers. Here, the setting is a fictional chicken restaurant where the manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is having a tough shift when a caller claiming to be a detective calls to inform her a customer claims she's been robbed by a member of staff. With Sandra giving up information all too easily, the suspicion shifts to Becky (Dreama Walker), who's brought to a back room where the caller instructs her boss to strip-search her.

 

The core of the film's story is just how people are willing to act on orders which they know to be wrong but because they've been told to do so by perceived superiors they proceed anyway. It's a brave piece of movie-making which ratchets up the tension and horror in the viewer, with excellent performances from Dowd and Walker at its disturbing centre. ****/*

 

Reality (Drama)

 

In their recent documentary Caesar Must Die, the Taviani brothers brought us inside a maximum security prison in Rome, where the inmates – including people serving life sentences for murder and drug-dealing – performed a version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It was an unusual look at an aspect of prison life, but Matteo Garrone has gone one better with Reality by giving the lead role to a man who had to have permission from a judge to be temporarily released from jail, where he's serving a lengthy sentence for mob crimes.

 

In his previous film, the outstanding Gomorrah, Garrone gave us an insight into how organised crime permeates every aspect of life in Naples with a particular emphasis on how the lowly footsoldiers of the criminal gangs are locked into an inescapable and not particularly profitable cycle. It's from this milieu that Aniello Arena emerged and he gives a superb performance in this thoroughly enjoyable parable about how reality television can have a corrupting psychological effect on its audience.

 

Arena plays Luciano, who runs a fish stall and also takes part in some low-level scams. He seems like a solid enough character, until a chance encounter with a contestant on the Italian version of Big Brother, who's now become a minor celebrity, leads to a dramatic change in his life.

 

Appearing on the show becomes Luciano's obsession, with his mental state going askew when he gets through his first audition and believes he's destined to become a star. Although we know we're witnessing a man effectively having a breakdown in front of us, Arena's conveying of Luciano's almost childlike belief in his true destiny is completely convincing. An offbeat treat. ****/*


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