Dir: Roman Coppola. US. 2001. 95 mins.

There is a curious paradox in the idea of basing one's hero, a filmmaker trying to find himself and his own voice (the title refers to the morse code for "seek you"), on the early career of the one's own father and other members of that movie brat generation. Whereas Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides - which made its debut in Cannes last year - was an intimate drama with an idiosyncratic vision, her brother Roman's own debut is a more ambitious yet also a much more derivative affair.

A likeable but extremely slight jeu d'esprit made on a $10m budget, with international locations and all the mighty resources of father Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope, CQ is not the all-out disaster which some had predicted, but has no hope of attracting the business to warrant its investment. Such prospects as it has are likely to depend on exploiting the Sixties style elements (the production designer is Coppola pere's long-term collaborator).

The film is set in Paris in 1969 (though much of it is shot in Luxemburg) in the aftermath of the previous year's student riots. An amusing opening sequence presents two contrasting versions of the morning of 17 September. In the first, shot in colour and widescreen, groovy Secret Agent Dragonfly (Lindvall) rises tardily in her futuristic, all-white apartment to prepare for her latest mission. In the second, shot in grainy 16 mm black-and-white, Paul, an American filmmaker (Davies), chronicles details of his grungy everyday life with his disaffected French girlfriend (Bouchez). Paul, it is revealed, is a crew member on a Barbarella-style American sci-fi flick about Agent Dragonfly shooting in Paris. Meanwhile, however, like other young filmmakers fired by the ground-breaking films of the French New Wave and the American underground, he dreams of making a film d'auteur which will do its modest bit to transform the language of cinema.

He is soon invited to compromise. Dragonfly's temperamental director Andrzej, a Frenchman (Depardieu), had picked up his star on the barricades of May 1968 and has subsequently fallen in love with her. A passionate revolutionary who believes films should change the world, Andrzej is fired by Enzo, the picture's affable, pragmatic Italian producer (Giancarlo Giannini), after he insists he wants to end it "not with a bang but with a whimper". There are two types of film, he is told in no uncertain terms: those with endings and those without. Dragonfly belongs in the first category.

Andrzej's replacement (played by Roman Coppola's cousin Jason Schwatzman, who came to prominence as the lead in Rushmore), an obnoxious swinger who appears to have borrowed his wardrobe from Austin Powers, lasts only days before he is disabled by a car accident and Paul called up to step into the breach.

The assignment is fraught with anxiety. Paul wracks his brains over how to end the movie and is still at a loss by the time Enzo summons him to Rome to hear his solution. Meanwhile the irate Andrzej continues to hover on the margins of the production, doing his best to sabotage it. There is also trouble on the home front: Paul, too, is starting to fall for his star, while his draggy girlfriend complains that he's more obsessed with movie than with their relationship, and eventually leaves him.

The satire is wildly uneven. The prototype for Paul's film journal is Jim McBride's late Sixties movie, David Holzman's Diary, which was itself a parody of self-regarding intellectual filmmaking (though there's certainly no shortage of other more ponderous examples from the era to draw on).

Unfortunately Coppola's own send-up is not especially funny in its own right and outstays its welcome well before Paul is forced to return the camera and give up the venture. Moreover these scenes, combined with Davies' puzzlingly charisma-free performance, fail to convince us of his own imagination or talent.

The main story is more successful, thanks to a sweetly effective performance from Lindvall, an American model making her acting debut, in the double role of the sexy secret agent and the ingenuous kid recruited from the street to play her. Though their characters are sketchy cliches, reliable support comes from old hands like Giannini and Depardieu and others like Billy Zane, as the Castro-like guerrilla warrior in the film-within-the-film with whom Dragonfly falls in love.

Coppola injects CQ with a sense of the over-heated idealism of the period and a fair sprinkling of decent throwaway jokes, even contriving to find a double ending which elegantly reconciles the conflicting views of Andrzej and Enzo on the matter. But overall, it fails to offer interesting or original insights into the movie business.

Prod cos American Zoetrope, VCL, Delux.

US dist United Artists.

Int'l sales StudioCanal Image.

Exec prods Francis Ford Coppola, Georgia Kacandes, Willi Baer, Datti Ruth.

Prod Gary Marcus.

Scr Roman Coppola.

Cinematography Robert Yeoman.

Prod des Dean Tavoularis.

Ed Leslie Jones.

Mus Mellow.

Main cast Jeremy Davies, Angela Lindvall, Elodie Bouchez, Gerard Depardieu, Giancarlo Giannini, Massimo Ghini, Billy Zane.