This week's new movies

Superheroes, students, and lots of last-chance action heroes

(15+) UK, 2014. Will Poulter, Ed Speleers, Alfie Allen

Four British university students plot a diamond heist in this thriller allegedly based on a true story. Sam (Ed Speleers) and Fordy (Will Poulter) run an efficient racket cloning credit cards, until their boys (Alfie Allen and Sebastian de Souza) rip off the wrong man and end up £2 million [Dhs12.3m] in debt to a gangster. In an unlikely ultimatum, they must deliver in two weeks or they’re for it. Cue a trip to Miami to target the big spenders.
It’s a zippy, sometimes entertaining ride with a fun start: think a student version of TV’s Hustle. But despite likeable turns from the four leads, the characters are simply drawn, especially pouty love interest Frankie (Emma Rigby from UK soap Hollyoaks), who is woefully under-written, -used and -dressed. (Note to filmmakers: casting a woman in a small role as a DCI does not balance things out.) The London scenes are fine but the guys seem far too relaxed in Miami considering death is looming, and we’re given no reason to root for them other than that they’re young and good-looking. Anna Smith

The Expendables 3

(TBA) USA/France, 2014. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford

Who actually watches the Expendables movies? Are there legions of middle-aged weightlifting nuts out there who yearn for the good old days of Chuck Norris mowing down foreign Johnnies with an Uzi 9mm?

This time, Sylvester Stallone (who also writes this nonsense) and his irony-deficient band of pumped-up ’80s-era mercenaries are taking on the international arms trade in the form of Mel Gibson’s cackling ex-Expendable. To assist, Stallone hauls in Wesley Snipes as an ex-con doctor, Harrison Ford looking bored to tears as a CIA boss and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Zero character development is given to any of these three (let alone the platoon of interchangeable young bucks that Sly also ropes onto the team). Meanwhile, director Patrick Hughes, whose only previous credit is the forgettable Aussie Western Red Hill, is clearly way out of his depth in the action set-pieces.

So thank the gods of war for Antonio Banderas, who single-handedly steals (and almost saves) the show as a loquacious assassin. Tom Huddleston

Guardians of the Galaxy

(PG15) USA, 2014. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista

To misquote Forrest Gump’s mother, Guardians of the Galaxy is like a box of chocolates – or rather, it’s a vast, family-sized festive crate of chocolates, all wrapped in the shiniest packaging, all exploding with sweetness and surprises. Maybe there are a couple of flavours you don’t much care for, and after a while it all starts to get a bit dizzying, but you stuff yourself anyway, coming up bloated and satisfied on the other side.

Based on one of Marvel Comics’ lesser known franchises, this is the tale of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling abducted as a boy who, a quarter of a century later, is working as a Han Solo-style outlaw-for-hire under the self-ordained nickname Star-Lord. When his quest for a mysterious orb attracts the attention of some blue-skinned intergalactic troublemakers, Quill gets in with a team of fellow outsiders including green-skinned warrior princess Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically enhanced raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), comically literal man-mountain Drax (Dave Bautista) and a self-regenerating, semi-sentient walking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, typecast again).

There’s a basic good-versus-evil plot in here somewhere, but it’s rendered largely impenetrable by a profusion of Marvel-verse asides, which will only make sense to those who have followed the mythology across the entire comic and film franchise (some conversations seem to consist entirely of silly names jumbled up at random). No matter – the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy the ride, as the film ricochets from one dazzling, frazzling action set-piece to the next, pausing only to charm our socks off with another pithy retort, classic bubble-gum-pop hit or cutely random alien character.

Some may find the film’s self-satisfaction a mite grating – Pratt is likeable but he’s no Harrison Ford, however hard he tries – and there are moments where the sheer brain-melting relentlessness becomes wearying. But overall this is giddy, ridiculous fun, a witty, wacky and wonderfully generous sugary gift of a film. Marvel, you shouldn’t have. Tom Huddleston

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