Geoff Cox’s guide to new DVD releases (03.08.11)

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IT’S hardly a return to his glory days, but Robert De Niro offers one of his better recent performances in LIMITLESS (15: Momentum).

He plays a ruthless tycoon in a punchy and witty thriller about a struggling writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), transformed by an illicit drug from a man crippled by self-doubt into a world-beater.

An old pal slips him a dose of the untested substance and it prompts a massive rush of creativity. Yet its addictive downside also becomes frighteningly obvious and soon Eddie is craving more of the so-called NZT.

Just when you think this is going to be a bog standard cautionary tale on the pros and cons of narcotics, maximum impact is generated from amiable Eddie’s highs and lows. It also poses interesting questions about whether the benefits from such artificial assistance are earned or unearned.

Despite some problematic loose ends and the underwritten female roles – sceptical girlfriend Abbie Cornish, troubled ex-wife Anna Friel – Limitless provides quite an adrenaline rush.

> Supernatural chiller THE RITE (15: Warner) is based on a real-life account of an American priest who studied to be an exorcist in Rome.

Student Michael Kovak (newcomer Colin O’Donoghue) is sent to work as apprentice to the renowned Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) and a troubling case involving a pregnant teenager forces the doubting cleric to challenge everything he believes.

The old Exorcist formula is revitalised to a certain extent due to the movie’s visual subtlety, brooding menace and deft jolts. You won’t find any pea-soup vomit here – it’s nails instead – and one ritual is amusingly interrupted by a mobile phone.

Hopkins’ own climactic possession is pitched somewhere between Hannibal Lecter and Linda Blair, although he’s still captivating in a fascinating blend of surprising fact and hard-edged fiction.

> Computer-generated RANGO (PG: Paramount) is not as child-friendly as its publicity would have you believe, but one thing is for sure – this is one weird western.

Johnny Depp voices Rango, a self-questioning chameleon who winds up the sheriff of a drought-stricken town in a ‘critterised’ Wild West.

Sombrero-wearing owls play mariachi music, moles and rats rob banks and pesky varmints are rattlers, gila monsters and the like.

Gore Verbinski, Depp’s director in the Pirates Of The Caribbean films, leaves no cowboy cliché unturned and when he exhausts them he includes visual references to other genre films – so watch out for nods to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Apocalypse Now and Godzilla.

While it’s all technically brilliant, much of the humour may go right over younger heads and it lacks a little in charm and true wit.

> Described as “Boogie Nights meets Goodfellas”, the problem with MIDDLE MEN (18: Paramount), a failed attempt to make a Scorsese-does-porn epic, is that both of those films are vastly superior.

Luke Wilson is Jack Harris, a successful businessman whose idyllic life goes pear-shaped when he gets involved with a couple of troubled geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) needing advice on getting their scheme off the ground during the internet’s ‘90s adolescence.

Soon Jack finds himself morally compromised as he’s surrounded by conmen, mobsters and other unsavoury characters.

The strong supporting cast includes James Caan, Kevin Pollak and Kelsey Grammer, but Wilson is far too bland to carry such a potentially interesting character.

> Writer/director Woody Allen is in his comfort zone with YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (12: Warner), a multi-layered London-set story of dysfunctional relationships.

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that Allen has done this many times before – and Mike Leigh does it much better.

Anthony Hopkins’ ageing businessman leaves Gemma Jones, his wife of 40 years, for flighty, gold-digging young Essex girl Lucy Punch, which outrages his daughter Naomi Watts.

Meanwhile, Watts is growing restless in her own marriage to struggling novelist Josh Brolin and develops a crush on her dashing gallery-owner boss (Antonio Banderas).

Jones still has faith that the family’s crises will resolve themselves after she consults a fraudulent fortune teller (Pauline Collins).

Allen’s script is littered with cliches and predictable scenarios, while his characters are so broadly drawn that it makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them.

> If you have to ask who Justin Bieber is you’re probably neither a young girl or into popular music.

This Canadian teen phenomenon has gone global since his mother posted some of his performance videos on YouTube back in 2007.

Bright and breezy JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (U: Paramount) showcases the precocious pop pup on his first pan-American tour.

The film is a somewhat anodyne biopic, concert movie and backstage footage combo and relentless in its uncritical promotion of Brand Bieber.

First and foremost a film for fans, adults might be surprised how cheesily enjoyable it is – although they may suddenly feel rather old.