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Warning: lusty alien space chick prowling the streets

Sci-Fi/Drama. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jeremy McWilliams, Michael Moreland, Antonia Campbell Hughes Director: Jonathan Glazer Cert 15A

THE notion of Scarlett Johansson playing an alluring alien luring lusty male Earthlings to their doom with the promise of interplanetary rumpy-pumpy is certainly a movie pitch which would have Hollywood's money men flinging wads of cash at the makers.

However, while the story outline I've just given is, essentially, accurate, anyone approaching Under The Skin expecting something along the lines of Scarlett-does-Species is in for a major shock.

Director Jonathan Glazer made his name in music videos (Radiohead's Street Spirit and Karma Police) and high-end commercials before his 2000 feature debut Sexy Beast marked him as a director to watch.

The 2004 follow-up, Birth, starring Nicole Kidman, was intriguing but divisive. He's set to split critical and audience opinion again.

Based on Michel Faber's novel but apparently stripped of considerable amounts of detail by Glazer and his co- writer Walter Campbell, Under The Skin is at first baffling, then intriguing before becoming immensely frustrating and irritating way before the final third.

plummy

The opening scene shows a strange light emerging from a void, as Mica Levi's excellent and unsettling score induces a sense of tension.

Soon we're following a motorbike speeding through the night as its rider stops to pick up a body and deposit it in the back of a white Transit, whereupon it's re-animated as Scarlett Johansson beneath a black wig, sporting a plummy English accent and wearing clothes perhaps best described as high street hooker chic.

Things then become weird, as we discover that we're on the outskirts of Glasgow and Johansson's character, called Laura, according to production notes, is on the prowl.

It soon becomes clear that Laura's plan is to stop random male pedestrians, chat them up and invite them back to "her place", where they end up semi-naked before walking slowly into a pile of some mysterious black goo, presumably never to be seen again.

That we're given no explanation as to why she's doing this is odd enough the first time it occurs, but Glazer and Campbell stretch the patience by never really revealing what's going on.

One could contend that the central conceit of the story is, what would a normal city look like to an alien were they suddenly to land.

And there's no question that Scarlett Johansson does indeed appear to be from a different species to the people we see when she's filmed walking around a nondescript shopping centre – but that doesn't excuse several baffling aspects of the story.

There is one harrowing scene where Laura witnesses a double drowning and displays no empathy whatsoever with a crying child.

Yet when the action shifts from Glasgow to the Highlands, the reservation has been well and truly left behind.

Who are the mysterious bikers on her trail? Why has she apparently abandoned her mission, if indeed it was one? And if it was a mission, what the hell was its purpose? And that ending?

I'm certainly not averse to film-makers leaving unanswered questions lying about the place, but for far too much of its running time, Under The Skin is way too enigmatically arthouse for its own good.

But hey, Scarlett Johansson is a sexy space chick, right? Approach with extreme caution HHIII

NEED FOR SPEED

Action: Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Keaton Director: Scott Waugh Cert 12A

WITH the seventh instalment in the Fast & Furious series not due until next year, its release already overshadowed by the death of its star, Paul Walker, in a road accident, Dreamworks has decided to grab some of those petrolhead dollars and, no doubt, set up a lucrative franchise of its own.

To this end, it has teamed up with gaming company Electronic Arts which, rather conveniently, has managed to flog more than 140 million Need For Speed games over the past 20 years. Nothing like a bit of brand recognition to kick-start a venture like this.

Well, they'll need every bit of help they can get because Need For Speed is about as dumb and thoroughly brainless as any movie based on a driving game could possibly be.

The, ahem, plot is real "back of a speeding ticket" stuff which makes the average Fast & Furious script look like Shakespeare, with hotshot mechanic and street racer Tobey (Aaron Paul making a daring post-Breaking Bad career move) released from jail for a crime he didn't commit and vowing revenge on slick NASCAR nancy boy Dino (Dominic Cooper) by beating him in some super-secret illegal race.

Hmm, I wonder will Tobey triumph?

Imogen Poots may as well play a nodding poodle in the back of Tobey's car for all she's given to do, and while the stunt driving is impressive at first, it does become boring long before the two-hour haul to the credits.

One for boy-racers only, I'm afraid, who, I'm sure, will be extra-cautious on the drive home from the multiplex. HHIII

THE ROCKET

Drama: Starring Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam, Bunsri Yindi Director: Ken Mordaunt Cert IFI

A charming drama from Australian documentary-maker Ken Mordaunt, The Rocket is set in Laos and has echoes of Beasts of the Southern Wild as it tells the story of young Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe),outcast from his family for supposedly being unlucky but who gathers a motley crew of misfits to travel across the country to compete in a home-made rocket contest.

It can be whimsical at times, but the energy of the young performers is infectious, as is that of Thep Phongam as Uncle Purple, a drunken war veteran who idolises James Brown. HHHHI


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