A-little-too-odd couples

Black Snake Moan, a tale of a God-fearing backwoodsman who tries to teach the village nymphomaniac the error of her ways, starts off well but descends into laughable farce, while My Best Friend is pleasantly predictable. By Declan Burke


As an interesting hook, Black Snake Moan (16s) is one of the more intriguing of recent times. A God-fearing backwoodsman and Blues guitarist, Lazarus (Samuel L Jackson) discovers a young white woman, Rae (Christina Ricci), on his farm, badly beaten, almost naked and possibly raped. When Lazarus makes enquires and discovers that Rae is the local nymphomaniac, he takes it upon himself to teach her the error of her ways.

Unfortunately, that's where the interesting premise ends and the exploitation begins. To begin with, Lazarus chains Rae to the radiator in his house; worse again, from a voyeuristic point of view, he fails to offer her even an old shirt or pair of shorts to cover up the skimpy top and underwear she's wearing when he first finds her. There follows a series of scenes in which Lazarus nobly resists the urge to get into bed with Rae, even though she carries on like a parody of a wanton slut out of, well, a Carry On movie. Meanwhile, her husband, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), is on the prowl and getting not-entirely-convincingly enraged about his wantaway wife.

Laughably bad in places, this is something of a gritty Christian tract that allows for plenty of Blues music and suggestions of fornication without ever threatening the inner sanctity that Lazarus holds dear. And therein lies the big problem with this movie (if you can leave aside the exploitation aspect): there's never any real threat to Rae emanating from the Lazarus character, and as a result there's virtually no tension between Jackson and Ricci, despite all the bare flesh on show. Craig Brewer, who writes and directs, has stumbled badly after last year's energetic Hustle and Flow.

My Best Friend (Mon meilleur ami) (12A) offers another quirky premise, although this one is slightly more whimsical: cold and calculating Parisian antique collector Francois (Daniel Auteuil) takes a bet with his business partner that he can produce a best friend, any best friend, by the end of the month, and then goes out to search for one. He encounters a taxi-driver, Bruno (Danny Boon), sociable, chatty and friendly by default, who agrees to help Francois to find a best buddy, despite the fact that Francois has to learn the basic concepts of friendship as if being taught in a seminar.

An undemanding comedy, this benefits from hugely likeable performances from Auteuil and Boon, both of whom seem entirely happy to play self-deprecating, gormless clowns who are opposite sides of the same coin – Bruno is socially gauche, while Francois is emotionally retarded, and neither man is comfortable in his own skin. Nonetheless, the denouement is apparent from 10 minutes in, and while it's all very pleasantly filmed and sharply observed (Patrice Leconte writes and directs with a sympathetic eye), the absence of narrative tension means that the story runs out of steam while the movie still has half-an-hour still to run.  

Black Snake Moan **
My Best Friend ***