23 APRIL 1994, Page 44


White Angel (`H', selected cinemas) Striking Distance (`18', selected cinemas) Beyond Bedlam (`18', selected cinemas) Tom and Viv (`15', selected cinemas) Widows' Peak (PG, selected cinemas)

Cross-dressed to kill

Mark Steyn

That's the trouble with serial killer movies. They shoot one, then they need to shoot another. In the wake of Kalifornia a week or two back come White Angel, Strik- ing Distance and Beyond Bedlam. In Kalifor- nia, a journalist writing a book on serial killers accidentally takes a serial killer along with him as a cross-country driving companion; in White Angel, a journalist writing a book on serial killers accidentally takes a serial killer in as her lodger. Having re-read my review of Kalifornia, I demand a second opinion. If only by comparison, it's a masterpiece — a glorious wallow in trail- er trash culture. White Angel, on the other hand, is English suburban, and, committing the abiding sin of British movies, makes its subject so much smaller than life.

Where Kalifornia spent big bucks to get everything looking that tacky, the British version just looks under-financed: every- thing seems to be shot in beige, like a pre- faded 1970s Open University programme. Peter Firth, as the killer, even looks like a 1970s Open University presenter — crimp- lene slacks, nylon shirt, vest visible under- neath. Ah, if only the plot had the electric tingle of crimplene: lack of budget doesn't excuse the lack of imagination from Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe, director, pro- ducer and co-writer. Does Firth have to be a killer dentist? More than that, a killer dentist transvestite? So many celluloid butchers like to do their hackin' and a-stab- bin' while cross-dressing that I'm surprised prominent figures in the transvestite com- munity haven't called on the film industry to promote more positive images of the cleavagely challenged (or differently hosed). And, if he does have to be a killer dentist transvestite, does he have to be a killer dentist transvestite who, after every brutal slaying, says (out loud), 'I think I'll just pop the kettle on'? This is one of those movies where the characters seem to be constructed from a hit parade of your all- time Top Ten Traits.

Striking Distance, the new Bruce Willis action thriller, has a great slogan: 'If they didn't want him to make waves, they shouldn't have put him in the water.' Best to stay outside the theatre and admire the poster. Does every movie cop have to be a maverick cop? In the Hollywood police departments, a real maverick would be a 'tec who keeps his shirt collar done up and does all his paperwork in triplicate. Willis, though, does put Beyond Bedlam in con- text. This is another British killer pic, with a range of carnage which will impress even your average seven-year-old glue sniffer once he's mugged granny for the video rental fee. But it's hard to take seriously when the leading man is Keith Allen, of television's The Comic Strip, a man whose very presence makes you wonder if the whole thing isn't a spoof. For one thing, Allen's performance seems to be modelled directly on Willis — from the extensive range of facial expressions (cool sneer) to a coiffure shaven to match Willis's receding hairline. True, if it's a spoof, it isn't a very funny one — but then neither was The Comic Strip.

Just for a change, next week's British film, Deadly Advice, is about a matricidal Welsh lass who's advised on the most effi- cacious methods of murder by the spirits of Dr Crippen and co. Of course, most of us like our British movies to be Merchant- Ivory-ish affairs, beginning with the princi- pals tootling down a country lane in a vintage motor scattering the yokels with a honk on the horn. It's such an old reliable that Tom and Viv opens with it and so does Widows' Peak. The first lane's Oxfordshire, the second's in Ireland. Richardson-wise, the first movie has Miranda, the second Natasha. Widows' Peak, a bit of 1920s whimsy, is a film with all the edges smoothed out: no troughs, but no peaks, either. Tom and Viv comes in the wake of that blockbuster bookish biopic Shadow- lands: after C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot. They'll be doing The A.S. Byatt Story next. The plot has copious quantities of menstrual blood, but the film as a whole is curiously blood- less and, for all its exquisite reconstruction, etc., something of a period pain. Inciden- tally, the guy who looks most like a serial killer in this week's movies is Willem Dafoe in Tom and Viv and he's playing T. S. Eliot.