"We're sending millions to fight fascists in Europe, but they're here – metre and rhyme!" Hmm. The fact that battles fought in the library of Columbia University appear unavoidably peripheral when the second world war is raging elsewhere is just one of the problems facing this earnest, enthusiastic, but oddly irksome take on the birth of the Beat poets, a group already overserved by swooning cinematic tribute. Daniel Radcliffe makes a surprisingly strong fist of his central role as a young Allen Ginsberg, the nebbishy son of a poet who arrives at university with a head full of uptight anxieties, which are promptly undone by his infatuation with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan, looking more like a young Leonardo than DiCaprio himself) and his first heady whiff of drink and drugs. Carr is a boisterous irritant who introduces Ginsberg to the equally youthful Kerouac and Burroughs (the latter first seen grimly inhaling nitrous oxide in a bathtub) while heading inexorably towards a grisly appointment with love and death. But before that, he must leap on to desks, tear up books, and shriek drunkenly about the "new vision" in the manner of one who needs a good slap, but instead finds adoration and indulgence wherever he looks. Despite all the talk about radical new forms of art, director John Krokidas falls back frequently on the traditional cliches – the tearaway artists frantically typing to jazz, or scribbling through cigarette smoke in cafes and clubs, the evidence of their emergent genius remaining all but impossible to dramatise. There's an admirable candour to the film's investigation of its subjects' sexuality, and a clear love of the material which seeps through the screen even as the characters alienate and annoy – one another, and us. Ultimately, it's oddly conservative fare; well played, handsomely mounted, but as inert as the books that its protagonists blithely hurl from the shelves.