Dir: Gabriele Salvatores. Italy. 2000. 95 mins.

Prod co: Cecchi Gori Group Fin.Ma.Vi. Co-prod: Colorado Film. Int'l sales: Cecchi Gori (39) 06 324721. Prod: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Maurizio Totti. Scr: Salavatores, based on novel by Domenico Starnone. DoP: Italo Petricione. Prod des: Rita Rabassini. Editor: Massimo Fiocchi. Music: Federico De Robertis, Teho Teardo, Eraldo Bernocchi. Main cast: Sergio Rubini (Antonio), Anouk Grinberg (mother), Tom Novembre (Micco), Anita Caprioli (Mara), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Uncle Nino), Paolo Villaggio (Cagnano).

Gabriele Salvatores used to be quite a good director of comedies about Italian lads abroad (Mediterraneo, Puerto Escondido); he has also made some halfway decent rock videos. Nirvana, in 1996, was his first attempt to combine the two in an ambitious Hare-Krisna-meets-Blade-Runner sci-fi epic. It didn't really work, but there were good things about it. Denti is the director's second hyper-realist film. It doesn't work at all, period.

Salvatores once again proves that he has bags of visual imagination, but without a compelling plot or a single credible character, Teeth gnashes its molars in a void. Its tepid Venice reception cannot have helped the film's commercial prospects, though Cecchi Gori will no doubt throw publicity and screens at the film in an attempt to recoup its not inconsiderable investment.

A blast of Deep Purple near the beginning pretty much sets the tone of a film which is adolescent in its cod-sci-fi premises, in its idea of the grotesque, and in its main character's attitude towards women. The idea is simple: it's a descent into the underworld of the human psyche, in which the devils are dentists. Antonio (Sergio Rubini) has always had problems with his outsize front teeth; when his histrionic zero of a woman breaks them with an ashtray, he goes to the dentist she may or may not be having an affair with to have them set right. Drills whirr, gums spurt blood, Antonio discovers that his root canals can unleash dark Freudian secrets about his past, and everything is supposed to spiral into a delirious, Grand Guignol catharsis.

It doesn't. There are some enjoyable special effects along the way: photographs that start talking, a shot through the bottom of a whisky glass, and lots of up-close dentistry. But like Nirvana, Denti is confused about what it's trying to say, and a weak script demands - and gets - over-the-top acting from all except Fabrizio Bentivoglio, who is perfect in a cameo role as a seafaring uncle. This is unlikely to be seen abroad - unless it is marketed as a 'how not to' video for trainee dentists.