SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (15) *** Romantic drama with enough odd elements to stand out from the crowd
AFTER spending eight months in a psychiatric institute, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), with Pat Sr in particular none too thrilled about the arrangement.
Pat is looking to start again – to try to cope with his bipolar disorder and anger issues and to find the silver linings in everything – and he thinks he can be happy.
His wife is gone and, in his attempts to reconcile with her, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a friend of a friend whom he asks to talk to his wife on his behalf in return for helping her practise for a dance contest.
Enlivened by its marquee cast, Silver Linings Playbook is a fairly standard romantic drama with enough odd elements to let it stand out from the pack.
Yet it's one of those films that trundles along without a true focus, and though its disparate elements are individually interesting, it's often this that hold it back, as it becomes a very odd combination of sports betting and ballroom dance.
Amid scenes of stark intensity and some chuckles, there are lots of ups and downs, all of it drawn from the well realised characters. As Pat struggles to readjust, which often involves lashing out, we're treated to a raw performance that's minus the usual smugness from Cooper, though it does involve a lot of shouting, and can sometimes be a bit showy.
But this is Lawrence's film for the most part. Tiffany has her own issues and is just as damaged and sparky as Pat, and having already wowed us in The Hunger Games, she's going to emerge as the star of the year. It's also blessed with the best work we've seen from De Niro in an age.
He's a bookie who says he wants to spend more time with Pat, but really just wants to use him as a rabbit's foot, something that starts out as a flaky sidebar but which becomes key to the story.
But it shows De Niro is still capable of an honest performance when paired with a strong director.
David O. Russell brings the same blue collar authenticity he did to The Fighter, with all the highs and lows of this feisty Italian family captured in loving detail.
A silly climax doesn't help, but the journey there is a pleasant and rewarding one.
David O. Russell
Running time: 122 mins
END OF WATCH (15) *** Tough cop thriller done with style and freshness
OPENING with a very earnest voice-over about cops and the job they do, this tough action thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as part of the thin blue line protecting Los Angeles, as a turf war between black and Mexican gangs tears up South Central.
They might be full of bravado and machismo, but they're putting themselves in real danger and doing good, brave police work, even if the film can often come across like a recruitment drive for the LAPD.
It's well-trodden ground as cop thrillers go, yet done with enough style and freshness to overcome its sometimes dodgy politics.
The camera switches like a mad thing between the video camera Gyllenhaal is using to document his days on patrol, and those carried by seemingly every character in the movie, which in some cases adds to the immediacy and tension, but can often prove annoying and daft.
Delving into their personal lives succeeds in adding a human element, yet also some padding, but its beating heart remains the fraternity between Gyllenhaal and Pena, and they go a long way to making its excesses palatable.
Director: David Ayer
Running time: 109 mins
NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER (U) * Enough to make you want to cancel Christmas
DAVID Tennant replaces Martin Freeman as the put-upon teacher of a group of primary school kids trying to win a Christmas singing contest in this unrequested sequel to 2009's Nativity.
Instead of firing moronic classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), the school keeps hiring and losing supply teachers, with Tennant the latest to be dragged down by his madness.
Full of trite messages and forced sentiment, it's the kind of muck that makes kids think they're going to win the X-Factor.
Wootton was barely tolerable in small doses in the original Nativity, but his overexposed starring role here quickly becomes wearying, although Tennant at least brings some level of normality.
There's a clearly defined target audience of easy to please six-year-olds but for everyone else it's enough to make you want to cancel Christmas.tor: Debbie Issit
Running time: 105 mins
GAMBIT (12A) * Plodding farce utterly lacking in wit or style
FROM its Pink Panther-style animated credit sequence, it's clear what this remake of a 1966 Michael Caine caper is aiming for.
That it falls desperately short of that mark is only made more surprising when you realise that it's written by the Coen brothers.
Their usual wit is entirely absent in a story involving Colin Firth's art dealer who hits on a scheme to relieve his boss (Alan Rickman) of a £12m Monet with some help from Cameron Diaz.
Since there's no actual content to the heist, the poverty of the writing is epitomised by a midsection taken up with leaden door-slamming antics and an extended sequence devoted to little more than Firth losing his trousers.
Saddled by having to play Clouseau-style physical comedy to which he's ill-suited, Firth and the other fine actors flounder, and all the jaunty music in the world can't save a plodding farce that's utterly lacking in wit or style.
Director: Michael Hoffman
Running time: 89 mins