A Cock & Bull Story

Apt title.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 26 Jan 2006 by Scott Morris
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Y'know, I held out some hope for this film. Steve Coogan's allright, isn't he? If not a Premier League comedy star, he's at least several steps above the Beezer Homes division. Costume dramas are always ripe for lampooning, aren't they? I hadn't noticed that the director attached to this colossal failure of a film was Michael Winterbottom, who you may remember, shuddering slightly, as the perpetrator of 9 Songs, the single worst film I've ever seen. This effort combines the stultifying tedium of that effort with the uniquely terrible structure of Full Frontal, the second worst film I've ever seen. Fabulous.

What it is, apart from a complete waste of time and effort, is a largely Coogan-centric production diary on the set of The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, sort of, but a scripted one with actors playing Coogan's wife Jenny (Kelly McDonald) and so forth. Except that by the end it's cutting in footage of the actors watching the final cut of A Cock & Bull Story, the same film-within-a-film-structure which is one of the many teeth-grindingly irritating offences to humanity that Full Frontal was convicted of, amongst many others. Also rattling around to little effect are Rob Brydon, Dylan Moran, Mark Williams, David Walliams and Gillian Anderson.

Okay, it's not the ensemble cast to end all casts but I'm sure you can see the potential there, or at the very least the potential of potential. What you get however, is a tedious expanse of pointlessness that admittedly doesn't plumb the same depths of the previously vilified films but seems to be doing its damndest to do so. Largely concerned with ego-related, shoe-height-based petty squabbling as Coogan worries Brydon is stealing the top star status from under him as the script goes through continual re-writes and re-focusing.

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So the film stumbles onwards, as haphazard, slapdash and unfocused as the book apparently is. It's supposed to be unfilmable, which I can't comment on. What I can say is this - this film is unwatchable. It has the stench of desperation about it, a burning need to be seen as 'clever' rather than 'funny'. It seeks validation like a ghastly middle class dinner party made up of members eager to show how far removed from the proletariat they have become. It thinks it's busy being intellectually superior, but the closest it gets to being amusing, which I assume was the aim despite all evidence to the contrary, is when Coogan drops a hot chestnut down the front of his trousers.

I assume this was targeted at film geeks only, rather like the similarly insufferable The Dreamers. Coogan's infilm P.A Jenni (Naomie Harris) enthuses effervescently about utterly obscure German cinema to the disinterest of all but the ubergeeks, itself parodied (probably unintentionally) by Mark Williams' enthusiastic English Civil War recreator's fervour for accuracy in battle scenes. Just don't get him started on Cold Mountain.

There might, I concede, be a point about film-making buried somewhere in A Cock & Bull Story. I, like most people on the planet, will never uncover it because I fully intend to never think about A Cock & Bull Story again after the conclusion of this review. It is, simply, a very dull thing to think about. I'm honestly quite easily pleased by most films, with the one proviso that they aren't extraordinarily tedious. I firmly believe that this flick is extraordinary tedious, and the bleak, oppressive silence in which our fellow audience members endured this grim spectacle indicates that I ain't the only one.

It's almost uniquely awful, but it's still funnier than Sweet Home Alabama, less needlessly exploitation al than 9 Songs and not lodged quite as firmly up its own rectum as Full Frontal so I'll allow it the small mercy of the ignominious shame of a zero star rating. Clemency! I am a merciful, magnanimous, grounded and humble man, after all.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.

IMDB Idiotwatch

barnaby-7 from London, England
"Any person who can make In This World, Code 46, 9 Songs and then this in a row is worthy of respect."
Well, yes. The same sort of respect one would grant a particularly vicious serial killer. APPREHEND WINTERBOTTOM NOW, ALPHA TEAM!

Michael Winterbottom
Cast list:
Steve Coogan (Tristram Shandy)
Rob Brydon (Toby Shandy)
Keeley Hawes (Elizabeth Shandy)
Shirley Henderson (Susannah)
Dylan Moran (Dr. Slop)
David Walliams (Curate)
Jeremy Northam (Mark)
Naomie Harris (Jennie)
Kelly Macdonald (Jenny)
Mark Williams (Ingoldsby)
Kieran O'Brien (Gary Wilson)