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"Keeping Mum," "Jackass Number Two" 

Maggie Smith plays a kindly homicidal cleaning lady; "Jackass" 2: gay as blazes


David Bowie once admitted in a song to being afraid of Americans, but it's the English that have me worried. If we're to believe movies like Niall Johnson's grey comedy (not too light, not too dark) Keeping Mum, it's like Old New Jersey over there, with little old ladies solving their problems via genteel whacking. Apparently it's not all Stilton and shuttlecocks as previously assumed, and the quaint ponds of the English countryside are positively silly with corpses.

Dame Maggie Smith (late of the Harry Potter juggernaut) slums only slightly to star as Grace Hawkins, a housekeeper who has traveled to the impossibly lovely parish of Little Wallop (population 57...and falling) to keep the house of the vicar and his wife. Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson, still bumbling) is the humorless man of the cloth, oblivious to the fact that his leggy daughter is a teenage slattern and his pretty son is a bully magnet. He's also completely unaware that his wife Gloria (the sorely missed Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient) is planning to run off with her icky golf instructor (Patrick Swayze?!). None of this goes unnoticed by Grace, who tackles the issues of the day by brandishing shovels, bolt cutters, and steam irons against the family's perceived tormentors and whose real reason for being in the Goodfellow home is clear to anyone who... well, anyone.

Scripted by American novelist Richard Russo (Empire Falls), Keeping Mum is as predictable a movie as you're likely to see this year (save the final shot, possibly), but it does offer the opportunity to see three of England's finest in one fell swoop. The peerless Smith allows her disapproving mouth to telegraph who will next be sleeping with the blue algae, and Atkinson, while in no way stretching, does enjoy a heavenly scene in which he rereads the Bible's "Song of Solomon" with a new set of eyes (not literally, just to be clear). Thomas hasn't been seen much since 2001's Gosford Park, and she puts her frosty smolder to good use as the conflicted Gloria, desperate for her husband's attention and ripe for the picking by the dehydrated-apple-faced Swayze, furiously chowing on the scenery as though he was being menaced by an elderly Englishwoman.

Sure, I watched a bunch of movies about alternative lifestyles over the last couple of weeks, but nothing I previewed for ImageOut came close to being as gay as Jackass: Number Two. Attempted anal penetration, homoerotic branding, a swig of semen, naked men on top of each other, and an old-fashioned Hollywood musical number are just a few of the highlights of the second big-screen edition of Jackass, which also features the death-defying idiocy and hilariously stealthy junk-thwacking we have all come to love. It's not as funny as the first Jackass flick, but it's sometimes hard to muster up more quality material after the initial release. That's OK; it happens to a lot of guys.

Keeping Mum (R), directed by Niall Johnson, is coming soon to the Little Theatres | Jackass: Number Two (R), directed by Jeff Tremaine, is playing everywhere imaginable.

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