WFTB Score: 1/20
The plot: Four workers at a potato delivery storehouse in Birmingham try to fulfil their disparate sexual fantasies, but discover that sexual gratification tends to come with complications of one sort or another.
There are few men as lusty and red-blooded as those who provide Birmingham with their spuds, at least if the Potato Men are anything to go by. They are: Ferris (Mackenzie Crook), a ‘gifted’ lad whose occasional relationship with the girl in his local chippy (Helen Latham) is cramped by the available space in the back room, as well as the intimate attentions of his ex-mother-in-law Joan (Kate Robbins); Dave, in search of carnal adventures after being ejected from the marital home by long-suffering wife Vicky (Angela Simpson); Tolly (Dominic Coleman), looking to recreate a specific, er, taste sensation from a previous relationship but lumbered with a dingy flat and, in Dave, an even dingier housemate; and finally their boss Jeremy (Mark Gatiss), boasting of a relationship with the lovely Ruth (Lucy Davis) but actually merely stalking her, before stealing her pet dog. The lads’ adventures take them into the stranger realms of sexual activity. Ferris and Dave’s sexual encounters prove, in different ways, the saying that three’s a crowd, while Tolly’s escapades may yet bear fruit. As for Jeremy, Ruth’s dog could get him in deep trouble or, amazingly, could land him love in the shape of the equally unbalanced Shelley (Julia Davis).
In Britain, Sex Lives of the Potato Men has achieved a kind of figurehead status, the epitome of everything that was or is wrong with the industry (some of the British public’s hard-gambled Lottery money was spent making the film). And that’s fair enough, since the film is dreadful in every way imaginable; except that to call Potato Men a film really credits it too much. In a film, characters go on journeys, learn, and develop for better or worse; here, the blokes feature in a couple of sketches each where they do their sexual thing (Ferris becomes an unwilling tool in a kinky, voyeuristic game, Dave is clueless in the world of group sex, Tolly is perpetually dim, Jeremy is just weird) and then the film ends, the only resolution being Vicky’s decision to – for no reason whatsoever – have Dave back for the good of their daughter. In the process, they all reduce the joy of sex to a dismal, grubby and mechanistic process where the women are, for the most part, no more than body parts; Helen Latham has a fairly major role in the film, yet she’s not even given the dignity of a name (she’s credited as ‘Chip Shop Girl’).
The film’s objectionable stance on all things sexual might be forgiven if it came at the subject from an imaginative or ironic angle. Unhealthy, creepy, obsessive male behaviour, including the threatened (if abortive) execution of a dog, is not something that can be easily played for laughs, but it can be done – Chris Morris’ Brass Eye episode about sex was outrageous but both satirical and funny. Potato Men can’t be forgiven, however, since the whole enterprise is so miserably flat. It’s not completely laugh-free – there’s something almost endearing about Dave carrying on mundane conversations about parking and allen keys whilst group sex is in the offing – but that joke (like all the others) is hammered into the ground and has to be balanced against the truly grotesque, such as the humiliations of Evie Garratt as Ruth’s mum. The movie runs at only 82 minutes, yet is so bereft of ideas by the half-way mark that it presents Vegas drunkenly bawling a karaoke version of ‘Come on Eileen’ in an empty club for our entertainment. And despite the come-on title, it’s not even a sex film; the Confessions/Adventures of films were pretty ghastly, but at least they were honest enough to feature low-rent titillation for the price of the admission fee. If you watch Potato Men looking for thrills, you’ll be very disappointed.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about the film is that it is a total waste of some decent performers. Vegas can be funny, as can Crook (he’s recently been praised for his children’s literature); Mark Gatiss and Julia Davis have both written really good material (for example The League of Gentlemen and Nighty Night) and Lucy Davis is a good actress. You wonder why any of them came on board after reading Andy Humphries’ script – and I’m sure that goes double for Adrian Chiles and his undistinguished cameo.
Well, there you go. You have been warned. If you still find Viz hilarious, there’s a brand of rudeness to Sex Lives of the Potato Men that you might get a giggle out of (I’ll admit it, Tolly’s walk through the flashing montage of rude words made me smile). In the main, though, it’s a film that’s not objectionable because it’s vulgar, or nasty, or sexist, although it’s all of these things. No, this film is a tiresome, appalling waste of time because in every single aspect of its creation, it’s horribly weak.