Clash Film Column: Dead Hand Gang

David Brent, Raccoons and a certain bunch of Inbetweeners...

That was the week in which...

It was announced that Ricky Gervais will reprise the role of The Office’s David Brent in the new film 'Life on the Road'.

Gervais has a certain talent - even Jesse Eisenberg described him as “one of the best actors I’ve ever seen in my life” - but his career after The Office has polarised opinion. The new film will follow Brent as he hits the road in a final attempt to ignite his music career.

The potential pitfalls for such a project are numerous. Catching the spirit of a show that finishedover a decade ago is a challenge. The concluding two episodes weaved a perfect balance between painfully caustic humour and true tenderness, as it neatly resolved the Tim and Dawn affair, and finally allowed Brent a moment of redemptive reinvention.

Similarly, many feature-length adaptations of episodic comedies place their main character in a new environment which minimalises the involvement of the supporting cast. For The Office that’s going to be a huge risk: it’s blandly recognisable setting and the interplay between the dysfunctional colleagues was surely as vital, perhaps more so, than the draw of Brent himself.

Still, it’s almost a no-lose scenario. Yielding a profit on a production which shouldn’t be particularly expensive shouldn’t be a problem - see The Inbetweeners and Alan Partridge - and the project could live up to its potential. If it doesn’t, all that will result is a collection of negative reviews, a short-lived sense of disappointment and yet another addition to the world of mediocre TV adaptations.

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The big film: 'The Inbetweeners 2'

It’s notoriously hard to pursuade newcomers to fall for the charms of 'The Inbetweeners' when they’re never more than 30 seconds away from seeing professional vulgarian Jay elucidating about clunge, fisting and yer mum.

Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll discover far more substance than is immediately apparent. It perfectly captures the competitiveness and awkwardness that permeates the brief intensity that typifies teenage friendship. Thankfully few of us have experienced punching a fish to death or exposing a testicle at a fashion show, but the majority of their escapades reflect relatable real incidents with a comic sense of extreme social cringe.

The first 'Inbetweeners Movie' succeeded in moving the quartet’s story into a different world. This time around, Will, Simon and Neil head to Australia to experience Jay’s supposedly wonderful new life of free-flowing women, glamourous work and punching koala bears.

Despite Jay’s discount 'Wolf Of Wall Street' introduction to Down Under, it takes a while for the narrative to take shape: simply because the plot functions as little more than a vehicle for the lads’ hijinks.

The best traits of the TV show are definitely present but they feel a little tired: Will’s biting sarcasm and sardonic voice overs only really sparkle with a critique of pretentious student travellers; Simon’s previous lovelorn nature is replaced by the fear of his psychotic new girlfriend; and Neil’s stupidity is now beyond parody. Their embarassment lacks the extremity or the surprise factor of the past.

It compensates for such failings with some perfectly orchestrated large scale set-pieces which deliver the laughs in a far more cinematic style than before. The underlining pathos which was usually the result of a feeling of the lads’ story coming to a close is again engagingly present, and, this time around, is particularly strong in what appears to be their final scene together. 'The Inbetweeners Movie 2' isn’t sensational by any means, but it does enough for our heroes to sign off with a bwark rather than a barf.

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Also out: 'God’s Pocket'

Helmed by somebody off 'Mad Men' new to directing (John Slattery) and commandeering co-star Christina Hendricks for a lead role, 'God’s Pocket' may seem like a vanity project. Add Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro and a screenplay adapted from cult US novelist Pete Dexter’s 1983 book to the mix, and you’ve got a brash, self-indulgent muddle on your hands, right?

Well, no. 'God’s Pocket' is a sparingly painted portrait of life in a blue-collar neighbourhood showcasing the antithesis of the American Dream. Some might say the film lacks subtlety, yet its most significant character Jeanie (Hendricks) is thousand yard stare-quiet with a deep, unexplained malaise that pre-dates the film’s pivotal moment – when her son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), is killed.

Local journalist Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins) suffers similar feelings of, combatting dissatisfaction and hopelessness with alcohol and prostitutes as he investigates Leon’s story. Meanwhile, Jeanie’s husband Mickey (Hoffman) finds himself at the mercy of an unscrupulous funeral director (Eddie Marsan), and the rest of the town looks on.

Like other films depicting small town America (The Last Picture Show, The Fighter, Nebraska), the key is style and tone. Encapsulating a similar squalid, sweaty feel as recent Dexter adaptation 'The Paperboy', Slattery crafts a claustrophobic, bleak atmosphere punctuated with uneasy black humour that speaks volumes.

Words: Kim Taylor-Foster

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Also out: 'Wakolda'

'Wakolda' features one of the year’s most interesting central narratives. Nazi human experimentalist Josef Mengele, one of the most heinously evil characters in modern history, attempts to rebuild a new life post-WWII alongside an unsuspecting family in a small Argentinian village.

In this fictional yet historically feasibly tale, Mengele, like many of his cohorts living in the country with a new identity, is welcomed almost without question. His past is immediately obvious to the audience, but his horrors are hinted at with just a creeping sense of dread: his remaining notebooks demonstrate the deranged depravity of his experiments but it’s only the family’s father Enzo who suspects more: his curiosity piqued by Mengele’s obsession with the progress of his wife’s pregnancy and his daughter’s slow development.

While 'Wakolda' brims with an undercurrent of nervy atmosphere, it doesn’t translate into dramatic tension. Compromised in part by symbolism so obvious that it barely counts as symbolism, there’s also no real sense of urgency at play despite the threat posed to the family and the investigators who are chasing Mengele’s capture. It’s decent drama but falls short of its substantial potential.

SHORTS

The troublesome casting of 'Ghostbusters 3' has been reported to have been fixed with the fresh idea of a female-lead cast. It’s an intriguing premise, but I pity the screenwriter who has to explain 1) what happened to the old Ghostbusters and 2) why the new Ghostbusters are all female in the first half of the film’s first act. Paul Feig of 'Bridesmaids' fame is in the running to direct.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' went straight to the top of last weekend’s box office, thus making Rocket the most successful fictional raccoon in history. There’s more competition than you’d think including one this week - Liam Neeson’s raccoon from 'The Nut Job' is doing whatever a raccon does back in sixth place. 'Back To The Future' is in at #7 solely from Secret Cinema revenue, but we’ve had enough BTTF jokes in the past fortnight to last a lifetime. 'Step Up 5' completes the higher-placed new entries. Think: someone somewhere has spent the best part of ten hours watching all five 'Step Up' films for fun, and still can’t dance.

Worst music / movie interface ever: The Script’s new album is apparently influenced by Mrs Brown’s Boys: D’Movie. There are no words in the English language that can adequately convey the horror of this concept.

Words by Ben Hopkins, unless otherwise indicated.

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