Directed by Jez Butterworth, starring Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz.

You don't have to be a film buff to know that Nicole Kidman's star is very much in the ascendant; the Australian actress has come a long way from 'Flirting' and 'Days of Thunder'. From roles in quirky independent features to tepid studio fodder, Kidman has revealed herself to be a versatile actress, as comfortable with the epic camp of 'Moulin Rouge' as with the Victorian claustrophobia of 'The Others'.

When an actor reaches a certain plateau of respectability, they are usually afforded the option of picking and choosing roles. Here, Kidman opts for an offbeat and understated project in 'The Birthday Girl'. Ben Chaplin - who surely stands to inherit Hugh Grant's typical-English-bloke-but-not-quite-so-posh role - plays a meek bank clerk who, in a desperate bid to find love, orders a mail order bride. Enter Kidman as the gorgeous Russian seductress Nadia, who has no English, but whose body language speaks volumes.

On that basis, there's not too much to get excited about, but the Butterworth brothers make sure there are plenty of diversions in this modest flick. Just when we think we've sussed the inevitable ending, enter Nadia's gangster 'cousins', played by two of the most respected contemporary French actors. Sadly, the arrival of messieurs Cassel and Kassovitz adds as much comedic oomph as Little and Large at the London Palladium. Their inclusion is a staggering mystery explained jointly by huge miscasting and a script that doesn't do either actor justice. The best that can be said is that the film looks hugely appealing on paper but somehow its essence never comes alive on screen.

'Birthday Girl' is a minnow of a film that only barely manages to entertain. It can't quite escape its own oddness for long enough to ever really win over a mass audience. The end is too long in coming and when it does it has all the impact of the unfurled cloth 'bang!' of a joke gun. Kidman, as usual, steals the show and it is just about worth watching for her sake.

Sinéad Gleeson