The Life of David Gale, The Polar Express, Contraband: films on TV today

Kevin Spacey faces the electric chair, a boy goes loco about Christmas and Mark Wahlberg is all at sea: the RadioTimes team’s pick of free-to-air films on TV today


The Life of David Gale ★★★
11.30pm-2.00am ITV3 


Kevin Spacey is as well known now for his patronage of the British stage as he is as a movie star, but his career at London’s Old Vic is partly subsidised by his continued participation in mainstream Hollywood movies. In this death row drama set in Texas, Spacey’s anti-capital punishment activist and philosophy professor, David Gale, protests his innocence after a rape and murder conviction, his story unfolding in flashback as he’s interviewed by Kate Winslet’s reporter. Directed by Alan Parker, the film has the feel of John Grisham, albeit with a magazine journalist on the case rather the usual maverick southern lawyer. There’s an overriding earnestness to the politics, and the mechanics are a bit clunky, but Spacey is always watchable. While Winslet might not be your first choice for an American hack, there’s able support from Laura Linney as Gale’s murdered co-activist.

The Polar Express ★★★
4.30-6.20pm C5 

This pioneering animation begins with a child getting abducted and whisked off to wintry climbs. But that’s okay because the tyke in question is a Santa sceptic and his “kidnapper” is a kindly chap here to show him that the jolly guy in the red suit is the real deal. The film’s use of performance capture allows Tom Hanks to play six different roles. Your challenge is to guess which of the characters he is.

Contraband ★★★
10.05pm-12.15am C4 

The always watchable Mark Wahlberg stars in this Freeview premiere as a former smuggler who’s forced to return to his criminal ways when his doofus brother-in-law puts the whole family in jeopardy. Giovanni Ribisi turns in another of his weaselly performances as a dodgy drug dealer, and there’s a memorable scene featuring him, a car window and Wahlberg’s pummelling fists.

Shanghai Knights ★★★
8.15-10.00pm BBC3 

Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson did the “East meets Wild West” thing to till-ringing effect in Shanghai Noon. This sequel relocates the pair to Victorian London and finds them out to foil a dastardly plot to wipe out the royal family. While it may score low in the history-lesson department, Chan delivers his trademark nimble action moves, while Wilson stands back, scratches his head and bags all the best one-liners.  

Fright Night ★★★★
9.00-11.10pm Movie Mix 


Whatever you might think of your own neighbours, at least they’re not vampires. (And if they are, it’s time to get on Right Move.) That’s the unfortunate situation young William Ragsdale finds himself in here, but funnily enough no-one actually believes him. That is until he enlists the help of a hammy ex-horror actor, played with a knowing wink by Roddy McDowell. As comedy’s go, this one’s a scream.