Caped crusader's return

THERE is probably not much that has not been said about Batman (Pearl, 9.30pm), but some of it is worth saying again. There is no Boy Wonder in it, but there is a ridiculously over-the-top and overpaid Jack Nicholson as The Joker (aka Jack Napier). Michael Keaton is Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) and Kim Basinger, before she went bankrupt, is the love interest.

Director Tim Burton's Gotham City is a crime-ridden, debris-strewn, sunless, architecturally incoherent metropolis, desperately in need of a saviour. Rumours that he based it on Mongkok are untrue.

The city is in the grip of crime boss Carl Grissom (more over-the-topness, this time from Jack Palance). Ace photographer Vicki Vale (Basinger) is intrigued by reported sightings of a giant vigilante bat. She meets enigmatic millionaire Bruce Wayne, not suspecting that he is Batman. Wayne is quite taken with the lovely Vale, but is distracted by the evil antics of Grissom's top henchman, Jack Napier, alias the Joker.

It was perhaps inevitable, considering the hype that surrounded it on its release in 1989, that Batman would fall a bit flat. Despite its interesting grim tone and undeniably striking visual, Burton and his big name cast simply fail to entertain. Its obvious intention to portray Batman and the Joker as a couple of psychotics, one promoting good and the other evil, does not come through.

Keaton, who tries to be moody and macho but has all the appeal of plywood, is hopelessly miscast. Nicholson is hopelessly full-blown. His best moment comes when he pulls an incredibly long pistol from his pants.

Batman had great potential, but made little of it. Nevertheless, it was easily the biggest - and biggest-grossing - film of 1989, a testament more to its massive marketing campaign than its quality. JACK Nicholson is less manic in Five Easy Pieces (Pearl, 2.00pm), a film he made in 1970, before he was big box office bucks.

Five Easy Pieces must be good, because it's one of the films they make you study at film school. It was directed by Bob Rafelson and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, although it didn't win. Karen Black plays Nicholson's dunderhead waitress girlfriend - a role for which she won the 1970 New York Film Critics Award.

Five Easy Pieces is part road movie and part character study. It follows Nicholson and Black as they travel to Washington to visit Nicholson's dying father. Nicholson's life, it turns out, has been something of a charade. He has been working as a redneck oil-rigger, drinking beer and shooting pool, when in fact he is a brilliant classical pianist.

IN Mississippi Burning (Pearl, 12.15pm) director Alan Parker turns the shocking murders of three civil rights leaders by the Ku Klux Klan into another buddy-cop movie. The cops are Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, who are sent south to investigate the disappearance of the young men.

Mississippi Burning is visually splendid and at times deeply disturbing. Parker used local Mississippians as extras - a ploy which gives the film a great human touch.

FOR The International Magic Awards (World, 9.35pm) the magic community allowed television cameras into the ceremony for the first time, although you have to wonder why. Awards up for grabs include Best Sleight Of Hand and Best Illusionist and Magician Of The Year. The good news is that the magicians have done what the actors should have done a long time ago and banned all speeches.

THE Civil War adventure Bad Company (World, 11,00am) is a bit of a sleeper - a film that sneaked out with no publicity, but turned out to be not half bad. It stars Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown as two young drifters of wildly differing temperament who rob their way west.