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Monday 18 December 2017

Five Year Engagement: Rom-com with a big heart

SINCE 'Knocked Up', the influence of Judd Apatow has dominated American romantic comedies ... and not always in a good way. Yes, there are grittier scenarios, but too often that's an excuse for gross vulgarity while another drawback is that many rom-coms now stretch beyond two hours, a thoroughly unnecessary state of affairs.

In the case of The Five-Year Engagement it does, alas, pass the 120-minute mark, but at least manages to keep the viewer onside for much of its duration.

Initially set in San Francisco, the film charts the relationship between chef Tom (Jason Segel) and psychologist Violet (Emily Blunt) as they meet, fall in love, get engaged and keep putting off their wedding.

Matters are thrown further awry when she accepts a post-grad course in Michigan, Tom gives up his job to follow her and a strain is put upon the relationship.

It's all pretty predictable stuff, but what it does have going for it is an extremely effective on-screen chemistry between two very likeable leads, Segel and Blunt being long-term pals in real life, which overcomes the tendency for several scenes to seriously outstay their welcome.

Comic relief is provided in the shape of Alison Brie and Chris Pratt as, respectively, Violet's sister and Tom's best mate, who beat them to the altar by a number of years while Rhys Ifans puts in a good turn as a sleazy professor at Violet's new college.

Far from the worst as these things go, had The Five-Year Engagement been at least half-an-hour shorter it would probably have ended up being twice the movie it is. HHHII

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Fantasy/Horror. Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Cert 15A

The title of this fantasy from Daywatch/Nightwatch/Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov may seem like a good idea for a fun night out but then so did Snakes on a Plane and Lesbian Vampire Killers and look where that got us.

A complete mess on every level, this has the wooden Benjamin Walker playing Abraham Lincoln as an avenger against the forces of the Undead following the murder of his mother when he was a boy, under the tutelage of the mysterious Henry Stubbs (Dominic Cooper).

Murky and at times utterly incomprehensible action sequences aren't helped at all by what feels like shoddily retro-fitted 3D and when the action lurches towards a daft finale -- something to do with Confederate vampires about to triumph at Gettysburg -- it feels as if chunks of the film have actually gone missing.

Would that what was left had gone missing four score and seven minutes previously. HIIII

LAY THE FAVOURITE Drama/Comedy. Starring Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn. Directed by Stephen Frears. Cert 15A

Who knew that Las Vegas bookies were such nice and understanding people, especially when one of their couriers does a runner with over $60,000 in cash? That's just one of the many inconsistencies in this most peculiar film based on the biography of Beth Raymer, a woman who worked as a cocktail waitress and stripper before becoming involved with bookies in Vegas and New York.

As portrayed by the usually excellent Rebecca Hall, Beth comes across as a vacuous airhead when surely she had to be much savvier to survive in that world. Somehow her character just seems to breeze along, initially working for the volatile but good-hearted Dink (Bruce Willis in another decent character role) before falling foul of his jealous wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and winding up running a dubious Caribbean operation for the dangerous Rosey (Vince Vaughn).

Director Stephen Frears never really strikes the right tone, which makes Lay the Favourite an outside each-way bet at very best. HHIII

VICTIM Drama. Starring Ashley Chin, Ashley Madekwe. Directed by Alex Pillai. Cert 15A

Coming across at times as Grange Hill with gangstas, this confused and over-convoluted British drama is set among the tower blocks of a London estate as a gang of violent robbers use their female accomplices as bait to ensnare their victims.

When one of their number, Tyson (Ashley Chin), falls for the middle-class stepsister of one of the molls he tries to change his ways but ... . go on, guess. Throw in a subplot about Tyson caring for his bright sister, another one about school bullying and what we have is a hackneyed jumble of half-baked ideas which doesn't ever really get away from the fact that the character we're supposed to be rooting for is a violent little scumbag who deserves whatever's coming to him. HHIII

>ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK

Two hours of Japanese people shouting at each other, slapping each other, stabbing each other and deserting their offspring (when they're not building a home gallows for them, that is) forms the core of Himizu (Cert Club, HHIII), a relentlessly depressing and oppressive drama set amid the post-tsunami wreckage of the Irabaki region. Enjoy.

The controversy surrounding the recording of Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland is at the core of Joe Berlinger's excellent documentary Under African Skies (General, HHHHI) while the strange burial rituals of the Merjan people of Western Russia lies at the heart of Silent Souls (Cert Club, HHHII), a movie that exerts a quiet power over the course of its hypnotic 78-minute running time.

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