DEN OF THIEVES Cert 15 Running time 140 minutes Stars 3

An increasingly beefy Gerard Butler rips into his role as a sleazy Los Angeles cop in this effective action heist thriller.

If you’re in the right mood the Scots actor can turn any old nonsense into entertainment, and thankfully his material here is a cut above his previous outing in the all-round disaster movie, Geostorm.

He’s hunting a crew of former marines turned ruthless bank robbers who are led by Pablo Schreiber. They’ve muscled O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s barman into being their getaway driver in a plan to steal $30million from the only LA bank which has never been robbed.

Among the deafening shoot-outs, well staged action and a great deal of toxic machismo, there are conflicted loyalties and muddled morality, with the cops boasting of being worse than the bad guys and the thieves enjoying loving family lives.

There’s no lack of ambition but it fails in comparison with its biggest influence, Michael Mann’s 1995 crime classic, Heat.

 

 

 

 

JOURNEY’S END Cert 12A Running time 107 minutes Stars 4

Salute the sacrifice of First World War soldiers with this wonderfully acted and sobering account of comradeship in the trenches.

A hundred years after the events, this fifth film adaptation of Simon Reade’s play is far from revolutionary. However the attention to detail is so good you can almost smell the trench foot, mustard gas and dead rats.

We bunker down in the cramped wooden mess of the officers of ‘C’ company, presumably so the camera doesn’t get wet outside along with the rank and file.

Ahead of a new German offensive and barely 60 yards from the enemy guns, Asa Butterfield, Sam Claflin and Paul Bettany are some of the posh actors trying to survive.  

In this earnest expression of horror and fear, it’s not just the nerves which are shot to pieces.

There’s much stiff upper lip talk of putting on a good show. And this very fine British film certainly does just that.

 

 

 

 

LAST FLAG FLYING Cert 15 Running time 125 minutes Stars 4

Hit the road for a funeral in the company of three impeccably crafted characters.

With honest chemistry, mournful perception and tremendous ability, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston play three former Vietnam war soldiers who reunite in 2003.

As Carell wrestles with the US government for ownership of his late son’s corpse, his companions squabble for influence over the grieving man’s soul.

A strength of Texan director and writer Richard Linklater is his never being afraid of making his characters at times unlikeable.

Moments of black comedy brings shade to the script’s deep sadness and humanity, and though strongly anti-war and anti-authority, this is a salute to comradeship and finding dignity and honour in the service of others.

This is an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 drama The Last Detail, which saw Jack Nicholson Oscar nominated for best actor. And though the names have been changed, it’s interesting to see Cranston’s take on the same role.

12 STRONG Cert 15 Running time 130 minutes Stars 3

Mount up for action with Chris Hemsworth in this impressively staged real life war movie.

The Thor star saddles up as the leader of a dozen special forces soldiers who ride horseback into Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attack on the twin towers.

It’s a covert operation, and with military intelligence being what it is, only one of them knows how to ride. 

With a forward operating base nicknamed The Alamo, this feels as if it’s a western armed with automatic rifles.

They’re on a mission to assist local warlord take a strategically important city. In the grand tradition of General Custer, they find themselves outnumbered 5000-1 and facing missile launchers and tanks.

There are shades of Lawrence of Arabia as Hemsworth leads the locals’ charge into battle, but he’s no Peter O’Toole and Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig is certainly no David Lean.

There’s probably a really good thaddle Thor joke in here somewhere, put I just can’t seem to find it.

Though the action scenes are bloodily effective, the pace never manages to gallop.

 

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE Cert 12A Running time 142 minutes Stars 2

Slog your way through the  pedestrian third and final episode of this meandering sci-fi adventure.

Conceived as male-orientated cash-in on Jennifer Lawrence’s wildly successful Hunger Games series, it’s set in a ravaged future where an incurable disease has shattered civilisation and created a race of rabid zombies.

Having escaped the lethal maze of the title, our immune merry band of photogenic outlaws have to break into the remaining city of a totalitarian regime, to rescue one of their own.

There’s a nifty train heist in a well constructed and exciting pre-title sequence, but it’s a misleading advert for the grind which follows.

Due to a serious on-set accident to lead hunk Dylan O’Brien, there’s been a three year gap since the previous episode.

Given the fickle nature of its young adult target audience and a longer than intended wait, it will be interesting if anyone still cares.

By the time this remarkably unmemorable marathon was over, I certainly didn’t.

 

EARLY MAN Cert PG Running time 88 minutes Stars 4

English football is stuck in the dark ages in this deliriously daft family animation.

The makers of Wallace and Gromit return to the big screen with a pre-historic adventure, created in their trademark clay model characters and traditional stop-motion technique. 

From the kick off it’s filled with their familiar combination of slapstick, puns and glorious attention to detail.

determinedly populist plot pits the local underdogs versus wealthy European sophisticates in a game of football.

Caveman Dug and his tribe are captured by a Bronze Age invaders, and only by agreeing to a football match can Dug’s tribe win their freedom.

Dug has to train his agricultural inclined players to work as a team, relying on hard work and heart, rather than those suspicious innovations of skill and tactics.

Exploitative foreign administrators and gloating Germanic players come in for some harsh treatment, and the way bad guys have used their mineral wealth to find a team of high maintenance mercenary foreign players will not be lost on fans of the beautiful game.

And there’s no escaping the gentrification of the game, with the principal players being voiced by posh actors Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston, while working class Johnny Vegas is pushed firmly to the back of the team.

From the beginning scene featuring a homage to the stop motion masterpieces of filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, this is is a riot of references to British film history and terrace culture.

So the famous words of commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme mingle with nods to Terry Gilliam and Gregory’s Girl. 

There’s a return to the directors chair for four time Oscar winner Nick Park, it’s his first feature film since the wonderful 2005’s Wallace And Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Another rabbit features prominently here, and despite some close shaves, no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

 

 

DOWNSIZING Cert 15 Running time 135 minutes Stars 2

A diminished Matt Damon runs in ever decreasing circles in this ponderous sci-fi satire.

The Bourne Identity star gives a pleasantly guileless performance as occupational therapist, Paul.

To solve financial worries, he signs up to be shrunk to five inches tall and live in an experimental community. However the reality of his gilded existence is not exactly as it says in the brochure.

It’s consistent in tone, well designed and acted, but over long, patronising and only intermittently entertaining.

And as in his previous two films 2011’s The Decendents and 2013’s Nebraska, writer and director Alexander Payne offers plenty of disdain for the working class, portraying them as fat, lazy, stupid and drunk.

Nor is the film’s premise isn’t as original as it thinks, being considerably less exciting than the 1957 classic The Incredible Shrinking Man, and a lot less fun than 1989’s huge hit, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Out on Wednesday.