Whimsical time-travelling comedy MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (12: Warner) is the most purely enjoyable movie Woody Allen has made in years and fully deserves the collection of Oscar nominations it has picked up.
Owen Wilson is unexpectedly cast in the central role of Gil, a befuddled hack struggling with his first novel who finds magical inspiration in the French capital.
The scribe can’t quite confess to his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) that he’s been zapping back to the 1920s to spend his evenings with Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald – Americans in Paris during a more gilded age.
As Gil ponders a permanent move to the past, the story weaves laughter with romance, all the while questioning whether it really would have been more fulfilling to live in an era when true artistic giants walked among us.
It helps to know the literary references, but Allen’s deliciously dotty plot construction ensures that seriousness never takes over.
An excellent supporting cast includes Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen and Kathy Bates.
> Knockabout action comedy 30 MINUTES OR LESS (15: Sony) features Jesse (The Social Network) Eisenberg as Nick, a slacker pizza delivery boy kidnapped by two inept small-time hoodlums, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson).
Then they force him to rob a bank – with an explosive vest strapped to his torso.
Nick has just a few hours to complete his task, so, with the help of his equally aimless buddy, Chet, sets out to obtain a getaway car, ski masks and toy guns.
Although the bungling criminals scenario has been done many times before, the protagonists are fairly likeable, if a little irritating at times.
Most of the best lines go to McBride, adding some inventive and near-the-knuckle wit to what would otherwise have been a bog standard succession of slapstick set-pieces.
> Colin Farrell has more fun than he seems to have had for a long while in FRIGHT NIGHT (15: Buena Vista), a cheerfully trashy remake of the 1985 vampire classic.
He shows a perfectly judged blend of charm and menace as Jerry, a stranger who moves in next door to high school student Charley (Anton Yelchin), an event that coincides with local kids going missing.
Suspecting that his new neighbour is hiding something, Charley turns to celebrity magician and vampire expert Peter Vincent, played by David Tennant with a relentless potty-mouth.
Tennant struggles to match up against his forerunner, the incomparable Roddy McDowall, but, just like the original, the gags are funny without taking the edge off the scary moments, which are deployed with hair-raising effect.
> Singer-turned-actor Justin Timberlake has generally picked his film roles well, so we won’t hold his appearance in recent DVD release Bad Teacher against him.
He and Mila Kunis, who impressed as Natalie Portman’s nemesis in Black Swan, are likeable leads in FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (15: Sony), which is smarter and funnier than the average romantic comedy.
An art director joins the staff of a magazine and is soon sleeping with the recruiter who hired him.
Both are determined to avoid a relationship and resolve to keep their feelings out of the arrangement, which proves harder than expected.
The hoary old conundrum of whether a friendship can survive the addition of sex, minus the emotional involvement, is a well-worn furrow ploughed recently by Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached.
But Timberlake and Kunis handle their banter with aplomb and despite wandering off track a little towards the end when it tries a tad too hard to be hip, it’s more rewarding than most rom-coms.
> Significantly less than a must-see, I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (12: Entertainment In Video) is a mildly diverting career-mom comedy starring Sex And The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker.
She plays Kate, a Boston-based investment fund manager with two young kids and an architect husband (Greg Kinnear) who is “between projects”.
She just about manages to juggle her work and home lives until a career opportunity working with New York broker Jack (Pierce Brosnan) cornily and contrivedly plunges her life into a chaos of misdirected emails, missed school appointments and marital discord.
Not forgetting a lice infestation, too.
Parker overdoes the girly ditziness and the interview inserts and occasional asides to camera are distracting rather than endearing.