Mark Kermode - Heady mix

Film - An engrossing, if derivative, thriller and a lukewarm rehash. By Mark Kermode

The Jacket

Multimedia artist John Maybury describes his latest feature film as a "genre-less" hybrid that defies categorisation, and earnestly hopes that "no one comes up with a label for it". This hasn't stopped the marketing masterminds merrily branding The Jacket a "Gothic thriller", and producing pos-ters that vaguely position it within the canon of dodgy post-Se7en chillers.

Thankfully, the movie has far more intriguing genre-straddling precedents, play-ing like a cross between Adrian Lyne's underrated shocker Jacob's Ladder (a purgatorial drama set in the mind of a dying soldier) and Terry Gilliam's acclaimed sci- fi love story Twelve Monkeys (a time-travelling expansion of Chris Marker's cult classic La Jetee). Into this heady mix, Maybury throws riffs plundered from sources as diverse as George Sluizer's The Vanishing (scenes of claustrophobic incarceration) and Ken Russell's Altered States (hyperreal hallucinations) to create an engrossing and intelligent - if derivative - thriller, which effectively wheedles its insidious way into both the heart and the head. Doe-eyed Adrien Brody stars as the haunted war veteran Jack Starks who experiences a catalogue of deaths foretold, ranging from the battlefields of the Persian Gulf, to the streets of America, to the black hole of a mortician's slab upon which he seems to travel in time. Twice left for dead, Jack is wrongly branded a killer and sent to an asylum for the criminally insane, where Dr Becker (a grizzled Kris Kristofferson) dishes out Cuckoo's Nest-style therapy in the form of straitjacketed sensory deprivation.

Torn between this world and the next, to the accompaniment of an eerie Brian Eno score, Jack flits from the "real" incarceration of the 1990s to the near future of an "imagined" 21st century, uncovering - and attempting to avert - his own imminent demise, with suitably cyclical results.

Based on a beautifully constructed script that uncoils like an overwound watch spring, The Jacket is a deliciously laby- rinthine affair that boasts a satisfying blend of surprises and sadness, reminding us that the key ingredient of all truly great ghost stories is not fear but melancholia. Brody, a winsome Oscar-winner, is perfectly cast as the enigmatic hollow man within whose damaged head history itself appears to be unspooling. Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide a convincingly institutional framework for Jack's radical "therapy", while rising star Daniel Craig offers eye-rolling support from within the mouth of madness. Only co-star Keira Knightley seems slightly lost within this puzzlesome maze, struggling to breathe life into a role that offers a dark counterpart to Kate Winslet's dream girl from Michel Gondry's comparable Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

As for Maybury - who captured Sinead O'Connor's tears on screen in his video for "Nothing Compares 2 U" - he maintains a fine balance between the intimate and the extraordinary, offering nightmarish flashes of Jack's out-of-body visions, but wisely relying on the anguished architecture of Brody's guileless face to provide the real special effects. The result confirms the promise of Maybury's previous feature, Love is the Devil, establishing him as a film-maker who is able to bring elements of an art-house sensibility to bear on a mainstream project in a manner that is both creatively rewarding and emotionally engaging.

Devotees of the notorious Child's Play series may have held high expectations of the once moribund franchise in the wake of Ronny Yu's brilliantly cine-literate spoof sequel Bride of Chucky. Sadly, the latest instalment, Seed of Chucky (from the original scripter turned writer-director Don Mancini), fails to deliver a killer punch despite a plethora of twisted treats, including trash-maestro John Waters having his face burned off with acid and the eponymous doll jerking off over a copy of Fangoria magazine. The plot is a lukewarm rehash of Wes Craven's New Nightmare, with leading lady Jennifer Tilly playing both herself and the voice of Tiffany, and bemoaning the lot of a washed-up Oscar nominee who has been reduced to "fucking a doll". There is no doubting Tilly's admirable chutzpah as she mocks her own cult movie cache ("Screams? Oh that's just a TV rerun of Bound; Gina Gershon's fingering me . . .") and boldly enacts scenes of demonic insemination ("Aaargh, I'm really fat!") that would have most Hollywood stars firing their agents forthwith.

Yet despite ample comedy gore (steamy disembowelments, flying decapitations), exemplary movie references (everything from Glen or Glenda? to The Elephant Man) and much puerile verbal vulgarity from genre stalwart Brad Dourif, Seed of Chucky is nothing like as funny or as foul as it needs to be, provoking not delighted shrieks but disappointed shrugs. The finale inevitably paves the way for a further instalment - but on this limp evidence, it would be better for everyone if Chucky and his offspring stayed dead.