MEL Gibson has been lumbered with some heavy baggage after his off-screen exploits and I can’t remember the last time he made a decent film.
But oddball comedy THE BEAVER (12: Icon), directed by Jodie Foster, is surprisingly moving and upbeat.
Gibson embraces vulnerability as depressed toy executive Walter Black, who starts to build a bridge back to his former well-being by using a furry puppet – The Beaver – to speak through.
He adopts a voice that sounds worryingly like Ray Winstone, while Foster also does a turn on the other side of the camera as Walter’s long-suffering wife. She effectively mirrors our disbelief as Walter, slowly emerging from a daze, seduces her with the puppet literally on hand.
In her role as director, Foster skilfully balances the comedy and the tragedy of the situation and how Walter’s eldest son (Anton Yelchin) tries to cope.
Gibson makes a good fist of capturing Walter’s split personality, even when the line between his recovery and insanity begins to blur.
> Grisly horror story STAKE LAND (15: Metrodome) is also a character-driven coming-of-age tale.
A bit like The Road with blood-suckers, it stars Nick Damici as a vampire hunter roaming post-apocalypse America after an epidemic has turned most of the population into crazed feral creatures.
He takes traumatised Connor Paolo (TV’s Gossip Girl) under his wing and, along with pregnant teen Danielle Harris and abused nun Kelly McGillis, they journey through barricaded towns and fight a terrifying religious cult on the way to a New Eden.
Despite a derivative story straight out of a pioneer western, this dark futuristic vision has substance thanks to the direction, which has an intense John Carpenter-style vibe.
Although it’s brutal thanks to the zombie-like vampires, the film becomes an emotionally rewarding ride.
> Inoffensive crime caper FLYPAPER (15: Lionsgate), from the writers of The Hangover, has lots of manic energy but offers nothing clever in the way of plotting.
Tripp Kennedy (Patrick Dempsey) strolls into his bank as it’s about to close for the weekend, just as two different gangs of robbers unwittingly target it at the same time.
One outfit is efficient and plans to go for the vault, but the other raiders are a couple of hillbillies calling themselves Peanut Butter (Tim Blake Nelson) and Jelly (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who aim to get the money out of the ATMs with plastic explosives they bought on the internet.
As a shoot-out erupts, neurotic Tripp attempts to protect bank teller Kaitlin (Ashley Judd) and runs around trying to piece together a conspiracy he sees at the heart of this unlikely coincidence of dual robberies.
Flypaper manages a few laughs, but the special effects are terrible and Dempsey’s hyperactive character never goes beyond talking fast and observing everything.
> He may be the ‘Muscles from Brussels’, but Jean-Claude Van Damme is getting a bit long in the tooth for action movies like ASSASSINATION GAMES (18: Sony).
Teaming up with rising star Scott Adkins, he plays Brazil, a contract killer willing to take any job if the price is right.
Flint (Adkins) quit the assassination game when a ruthless drug dealer’s attack left his wife in a coma.
One is handy with a knife and the other is a sharpshooter, but when a contract is put out on the dealer, both Brazil and Flint want him dead – one for the money, the other for revenge.
With crooked Interpol agents and vicious members of the underworld hot on their trail, they join forces to take out their target before they are themselves terminated.
> Released simultaneously in cinemas and on DVD, horror comedy TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL (15: Sony) does for killer rednecks what Shaun Of The Dead did for zombies.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are good-natured best friends on holiday at their dilapidated mountain cabin.
The pair are mistaken for backwoods murderers by obnoxious college kids, who are camping in the nearby woods.
When Tucker and Dale save the life of attractive student Allison, her friends believe she has been kidnapped and set out to rescue her.
As misunderstandings grow, so does the body count.