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Holy Smoke review

Picture this: Harvey Keitel, in the desert, dressed in nothing but a rather fetching red dress and some make-up. Now picture him chasing a young woman with books strapped to her feet, proclaiming his love to her. Trust us, anyone looking for the restrained passion of The Piano and The Portrait Of A Lady had better keep right on walking...

On paper, Holy Smoke looks like an enticing proposition. It stars Keitel, Winslet and Grier (though she only has five minutes screen time), plus it has loads of potential for the kind of psyche-trawling emotional explorations Campion excels at. Which makes it even more disappointing that Campion has tried - - and largely failed - - to turn what could have been a half-decent drama into a sprawling, rude, crude, comedy.

Holy Smoke tries achingly hard to squeeze out laughs. Every scene set in suburban Oz is filmed in garish comedy pastel tones, every performer seems to be operating under strict orders to replace acting with wide-eyed mugging and every funny piece of slapstick has its punchline telegraphed with leaden predictability. There are laughs to be had, but they're almost invariably at, rather than with, this ill-plotted mess of a film - painful chortles at the embarrassing clunkiness of it all.

The irony is that when glimmers of seriousness finally break through - - `serious' moments being flagged by lower lighting, increased nudity and a smattering of sex - - the movie almost manages to come to life. As the deprogramming sequences heat up, Winslet gives a brave and passionate performance, totally convincing as a young woman oscillating between the roles of lost soul and femme fatale. Sadly, though, she's faced with career-low hamming from Keitel, which, combined with Campion's attempts to inject slapstick comedy, soon sends the whole thing spiralling back to rock bottom.

Difficult to believe a director and cast this talented could create something this awful, but they have. Winslet rises above the flawed material, but even the most ardent Kate-o-phile will find it difficult to stomach the rest of this guff.

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