Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - Under The Skin, The Stag, Need For Speed, The Zero Theorem

Under the Skin (15, 108 mins)

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Scarlett Johansson was filmed by hidden cameras in Glasgow city centre
Scarlett Johansson was filmed by hidden cameras in Glasgow city centre

Under the Skin (15, 108 mins)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

2 stars

It was way back in 2011 that Scarlett Johansson came to Glasgow to film Under the Skin, mostly undercover and unrecognised in a black wig, as an alien who seduces and kills men.

It's been a longstanding project for director Jonathan Glazer, who has spent a decade trying to get the film (based on Michel Faber's novel) made, and the last two and a half years presumably trying to carve something coherent from the footage he shot.

At least in the early stages there are some striking visual ideas to cling on to as Scarlett drives around the city looking for victims and, having chosen them, lures them to their doom in an otherworldly pool of inky black goo.

It's weird, different and beguiling, at first anyway. But then the same scene gets played out again with a different man. And then once more just to make sure we got it.

Combine this repetition with so much dead air that the impression given is that there's really only enough material here for a 20-30 minute short film.

Shorn of almost all narrative convention, it becomes a struggle that does nothing but raise questions. Who is she? Where is she from? Why is she here?

What does she want? What can she do? Who's the guy on the motorbike? There's very little to be gained from being so wilfully unfathomable.

The scenes shot on the hoof on the streets of Glasgow are fresh and vivid, and the naturalism of the non-actors is to be commended. And Johansson is very impressive, never giving anything away.

But local audiences may well spend more time trying to recognise the streets or spot themselves passing the window of Scarlett's van than engaging with such an obtuse story.

Events grow increasingly unexplained during a second half that leaves Glasgow for more rural areas, descending into pointless monotony until, sadly, all you're left with is impenetrable nonsense.

Need for Speed (12A, 132 mins)

Director: Scott Waugh

2 stars

Based on a video game, this incredibly silly motor-mayhem actioner aims to fill a hole while we wait for the next entry in the Fast and Furious series.

Garage owner Tobey (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) has fallen on hard times, and so takes on a proposition made by Dominic Cooper's shady rival that ends in tragedy, as a ludicrous running time is stretched out way beyond necessity by an awful lot of flab and set-up.

Bear in mind this is supposed to be a film about things that move fast, but half of it has passed by the time we get to the main plot, which involves Tobey driving from New York to California to take part in a secret, multi-million dollar race.

The cars certainly do move fast even if the story doesn't, much of it looking impressively like it's done without the benefit of CGI. But for all the high-octane shenanigans, Need for Speed really is quite boring.

The Stag (15, 94 mins)

Director: John Butler

4 stars

On the surface, all signs point to The Stag being just another retread of The Hangover or, worse still, dismal Hangover knock-off, The Knot, but this Irish comedy turns out to be a real treat.

With the upcoming wedding of Fionnan (Hugh O'Conor), best man Davin (Sherlock's Andrew Scott) organises a low key stag involving some hill-walking and a couple of pints, and once they head off on the trip the movie really finds its feet, especially with the arrival of prospective brother-in-law, The Machine (co-writer Peter McDonald).

He's an overbearing character who could easily have been deeply obnoxious, and indeed he is at first, but who reveals as many hidden depths as everyone else as the story progresses.

Throw in a couple of fantastic set pieces that provide substantial laughs, alongside genuine heart, and The Stag emerges as a wonderful surprise.

The Zero Theorem (15, 106 mins)

Director: Terry Gilliam

3 stars

The Zero Theorem takes place in a typical Terry Gilliam world of bureaucracy and doublespeak and The Management, for whom Christoph Waltz works as a drone, processing data to try to prove the Zero Theorem, whatever that may be.

It stalls for a while after this set-up, but Gilliam has fashioned a snazzy world depicting a wild and crazy future, like a brighter Blade Runner, with adverts that follow you and giant posters announcing that "everything is under control".

External forces are more or less absent and it's a little overloaded with zany minor characters, but then this is not really a film that's aiming for normality. Big existential questions about being alone in a meaningless universe are really what's on Gilliam's mind, and that's just about enough to chew on even as the plot dribbles on towards not very much at all.

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