Entertaining knockabout identity farce that pretty much hits the spot.
British cinema is still protected under the endangered species act, but has been making steady progress in a comedy breeding program that's produced the likes of East Is East and (the surprisingly popular in the U.S.) Bend It Like Beckham. Whether or not this will continue with FilmFour succumbing to the vagaries of the financial downturn remains to be seen but this, their swansong movie, provides a solid note to exit on. Another movie that takes a critical humping but seems to be better appreciated but actual people who don't habitually jam their heads up their own arse.
Michael Caine is a bad actor. Hang on, that not phrased right. In this film he plays a bad actor. O'Malley is a hack, currently starring in a low rent adaptation of Richard III set in Nazi Germany for no readily explainable reason. Any similarities to the classic The Producers is entirely coincidental. The pay is poor, and this has attracted a suitable array of monkeys taking up the lesser roles. One of the thespian simians is Tom (Dylan Moran), a seemingly awful actor who O'Malley has taken under his wing. Fresh from fluffing an audition for a sausage commercial, O'Malley informs him of a plan he's concocted to get some much-needed cash.
O'Malley has been researching villains to help prepare for his role. He's learned that what he believes to be the local hardcore evildoer, Barreller (Michael Gambon) owes a certain party named Magnani a certain sum of money. Neither party has met the other. Therefore, if someone were to pretend to represent Magnani convincingly enough, they could collect that money and vanish with it. Tom rightly discards this idea as overly stupid.
He returns to his home to find a nice fire going. And the fire brigade trying to douse it. After offering the fire-fighters a chip he wanders off to stay with his sister and his freaky 9 year old niece. The kid is some sort of hyper-intelligent child prodigy, who helps Tom prepare for his upcoming roles, and later plans with meticulous detail their convoluted plans. This could easily have backfired, as child actors are almost universally irritating, but works well here. She gets a great number of sarcastic lines with which to deflate O'Malley's overblown self-image later in the film too. Now in desperate need of the cash, Tom agrees to O'Malley's plan.
Tom poses as a Clive, a Magnani employee sent to collect the money. Surprisingly, the plan works, largely because Barreller is a dumb as a post. It becomes apparent that O'Malley may have overstated his notorious criminality, and Barreller seems keen on going straight. We're never told exactly what criminal activity Barreller and his family were engaged in, largely because if they were nasty criminal scum it would get in the way of the attraction between Tom/Clive and Barreller's beautiful daughter, Delores (Lena Headey). A contrivance, but seeing as the movies full of them there's no point picking fault with it. All that matters is the central issue of any comedy - Is it funny? For my money, the answer is yes, although it's the romance scenes that fall flattest, through no fault of the actors. It never seems to mesh well with the more chaotic events around it, and it's fortunate that director Conor McPherson recognises this and relegates the sub-plot mostly out of the way.
For a short while, Tom and O'Malley are happy, having picked up the cash Scot free. Tom feels guilty about screwing the family, who seem entirely harmless and awfully nice out of the money. This is swiftly changed to feelings of panic as they find out Magnani is actually sending someone over to sort out this mess. Tom has to intercept the gruff Scottish hitman sent over at the airport, giving an utterly hilarious version of Barreller. He completely ignores the gravity of the situation and then quickly grows irritated with Magnani's representative, and Michael McElhatton puts in a terrific performance as the exasperated Scotsman.
Tom sends him off to a remote island, buying some time with a gloriously sarcastic send-off. But now he has to appear before Barreller as a Scottish hitman, which he does with great aplomb. He affects a ridiculous scheme of having to continually eat popcorn so he can pretend the great violence he inflicts on people is part of a movie. Being of Beckham-like intelligence Barreller accepts this without thinking. Now everyone is looking for Clive, so the only solution is to kill him off. To add even more twists to the plot, Magnani herself flies over to take charge of the situation. This leads to O'Malley being forced to reluctantly get in drag and pass himself off as Magnani to Barreller and Barreller's lawyer to Magnani.
If there's a glaring weak spot in the film it's this. While drag acts may be a long running tradition it's also easy to descent into trite clich?s, as it unfortunately does here. A recently returned McElhatton immediately fancies O'Malley at first sight, and no-one seems to notice how bloody obvious it is that O'Malley is clearly male. Some of the higher class ladyboy acts may pass relatively well for female given careful makeup and a suitably delicate cheekbone structure, but O'Malley looks like Michael Caine in a dress with some lippy smeared on. That in itself isn't really funny, and nothing further is done to make it funny - a problem in a comedy. The entire sequence comes across as staid and predictable.
That's the only major irritation I can level at it, so it must be doing something right. That aside, it kept me chuckling throughout, so clearly it's a good comedy as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing as objective as comedy though, so let's see if I can classify it a bit better. It's basically a farce, a comedy of errors. The basic plot itself (it comes across far less confusingly than my rather condensed and potted recap) almost has RomCom like tendencies, albeit with gangsters and cash replacing strippers and engagement rings. Perhaps Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a better analogy, in the way a group of outsiders play two factions off against each other. While the plot and action is similar and similarly amusing, it doesn't quite share Lock Stock's selection of memorable lines, although it's funny enough in it's own right.
Michael Caine isn't in the film as much as the top billing may suggest, but when on-screen he's superb as a bitter, arrogant, conceited blowhard. Moran shows his potential and range far better here than in his T.V. series Black Books, and his performance is more in line with the quality of his stage act. There are no weak links in the supporting cast either, everyone carrying out their roles very, very well. McElhatton's hitman and Gambon's Barreller are in particular worthy of plaudits.
How to mark this? Leaving the cinema I would have popped a four down without thinking, but in the cold light of day I'm struggling to remember a great deal about exactly why I would have given it this. Overanalysis can be dangerous though, and this isn't the sort of film that stands up to a serious scrutiny too well. It's intended as a light-hearted, if foul-mouthed, knockabout comedy that doesn't quite have the inspired situations or dialogue that puts Snatch, LockStock or The Big Lebowski firmly into the classic category. It's funny, but not consistently hilarious. There's a solid argument for knocking this down to a 3 Tippymark effort, as it's a tad contrived, Caine's drag act especially so. That seems overly harsh, but as the web gods have decreed this site has no half marks...
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Dylan Moran (Tom)
Michael Gambon (Barreller)
Miranda Richardson (Magnani)
Lena Headey (Dolores)