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Challengers sees Zendaya shine in a sexually charged game between love rivals

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CHALLENGERS

(15) 131mins

★★★★★

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IF you want to see a sexually charged film served at ferocious high speed, then this tale of competition on and off the tennis court aces it.

Best friends Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) are chancers in the game of doubles.

Challengers sees Zendaya caught in a love triangle with Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist

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Challengers sees Zendaya caught in a love triangle with Josh O’Connor and Mike FaistCredit: Alamy

Full of energy and hormones, they play a chaotic style, winning some tournaments, while spending their evenings smoking and drinking.

Patrick fancies himself as a rock star of the tennis world, rebelling against the usual ways of training.

Art is more shy and preppy. He adores Patrick’s mayhem, but errs on the side of caution in his career.

Then they meet rising superstar Tashi (Zendaya) — and their lives change forever.

Tashi has it all — looks, humour, sexiness and sass.

And so much talent on the court she is “going to make her family millionaires”.

The lads invite her to their shabby hotel room, where the trio engage in some heavy petting — revealing a lot more about the boys’ relationship than previously known.

Soon, the friends become rivals, both wanting Tashi’s affections.

She plays up to this by promising her phone number to whoever wins the singles final.

This begins an entanglement of obsession and jealousy and a lifetime of competition which culminates in a grudge match more enthralling than any final at Wimbledon.

Zendaya stuns in a low-cut neon green dress as she promotes new movie Challengers on Good Morning America

Directed by Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino, the up-close-and-personal style means you practically feel the sweat spray from the screen, the baseline of the music pulsing through your chest.

The buzz of anticipation builds as the years roll on.

It is mischievous and funny, while being tense and laced with bitterness.

There’s plenty of time-hopping between the present day and when the trio were younger, all of which works refreshingly well.

While all performances are compelling, Zendaya’s steely portrayal of ultra-ambitious Tashi sets her in a new league as a leading woman in cinema.

She is unwavering in her pursuit of power, something that is fascinating to watch in a female character.

Especially one who is also a wife and mother.

Her withering looks and one-line put-downs make you want to play it all over again.

An instant grand slam winner.

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THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES

 (12A) 105 mins

★★☆☆☆

“WE can’t all die first,” read the tagline for The Blackening – last summer’s riotous comedy slasher tackling the stereotype that black characters are killed first in horrors.

With this debut feature, writer-director Kobi Libii lampoons another cliché – that black actors are cast as, what director Spike Lee calls, “Magical Negroes”, side characters who exist solely to help white heroes.

The American Society of Magical Negroes sadly fails to cast a spell

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The American Society of Magical Negroes sadly fails to cast a spellCredit: Alamy

Sadly, this muddled satire fails to cast a spell.

Justice Smith plays Aren, a 20-something doormat who is inducted into the secret society of the title by Roger (David Alan Grier).

Apparently, for decades magical African Americans have been using homespun wisdom to stop racist white people from becoming dangerously angry.

Aren’s first mission sees him beamed into a social media company, where he has to stop a tetchy tech nerd taking out his frustrations on people of colour.

Then, seemingly having twigged the satire isn’t working, Libii starts again.

Now we’re watching a rom-com, where gawky Aren falls for confident web designer Lizzie (An-Li Bogan).

Their chemistry sparks but the romance never comes to life.

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I.S.S

(15) 95mins

★★★☆☆

IMAGINE watching help-lessly from outer space as sudden global nuclear war rages on Earth.

I.S.S, starring West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose, follows a group of American and Russian astronauts as they struggle to come to terms with the end of everything they know.

I.S.S follows a group of American and Russian astronauts as they struggle to come to terms with the end of everything they know

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I.S.S follows a group of American and Russian astronauts as they struggle to come to terms with the end of everything they knowCredit: Alamy

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Nick Shafir deliver a thriller that is tense, if a little far-fetched.

Riffing on the familiar Cold War themes of the dangers of following orders blindly, the pair have given us a decent modern thriller.

DeBose plays American rookie astronaut Dr Kira Foster, who is thrown into a whirlwind of Cold War machinations.

Kira’s direct superior Gordon (Chris Messina) is ordered to take over the space station by any means necessary.

The only problem is the Russians have had identical orders.

There are no great surprises as to who we should root for thanks to a hilariously over-the-top Soviet-era-style casting, but there is still a lot to like about this timely space drama.

DeBose brings plenty of sass to the proceedings, even if the film does have a questionable ending.

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