Tag Archives: 4/20

Grown Ups

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Coming together to remember a much-loved basketball coach, five fully-grown friends turn the event into a big holiday for themselves and their extended families. However, some take to being taken away from their daily lives – and thrown in with strangers – with more enthusiasm than others.

Just once in the career of Coach ‘Buzzer’, he led a team to championship glory. That event bonded five boys in friendship, and Coach’s death calls them together again: Lenny (Adam Sandler), a successful agent with a workaholic designer wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek), ungrateful kids and a secret nanny called Rita (Di Quon); Eric (Kevin James), a big-hearted soul with a flash car, pretty wife Sally (Maria Bello), their own brood and his own secret; Kurt (Chris Rock), a hen-pecked house-husband who gets little respect from his kids, wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph) or his flatulent mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann); Rob (Rob Schneider), a would-be spiritualist with a thing for older women such as Gloria (Joyce Van Patten) and, improbably, two stunning daughters plus a ‘fugly’ one; and Marcus (David Spade), a singleton still walking on the wild side when the others’ party days are over.

After the funeral, Lenny reveals he has hired the lake house at which they celebrated years ago, and the party descends for a week of bonding and self-discovery, though Roxanne and the kids initially hanker for the luxuries of Milan. The men will have none of it, especially when Rob’s beautiful daughters arrive, and stay all week to say goodbye to the coach, enjoy each other’s company and visit the nearby water park. They also confront the simmering resentment of the rival basketball team they bested years ago, who are still around – and still convinced that Lenny cheated his way to victory.

You can imagine the scene: our five stars at the bar at Happy Madison Productions.

“Hey,” says one of them, “why don’t we all star in the same movie? That way we can hang out on set as well as off it.”

“Cool. What’s the story?”

“Story? Come on, we’ve put out some pretty crappy pictures between us – especially you, Rob – and folks are going to see them regardless. Who the hell needs a story?”

They clink Buds, and Grown Ups is born. I say this because the movie, written by Sandler with Fred Wolf, is dismally lazy in both concept and execution, the equivalent of Sandler’s home movies; and we all know how interesting it is to watch other people’s holiday snaps. Characterisations and script are largely built around the actors’ obvious attributes: Eric’s out of shape, Marcus is a sleaze, Rob’s a shortarse; Kurt’s emasculated, which requires a modicum of acting from Rock, while Sandler’s Lenny is cursed with – aside from big ears – the tragedy of being too successful. Bless.

While the five guys rib each other in laboured fashion (entirely lacking the lively edge of The 40-Year-Old Virgin), the secondary characters are stooges: the wives are high-maintenance, the kids appallingly ungrateful and brattish, at least until they come round to the men’s way of thinking.

“Daddy knows best” is ultimately the retrograde message of Grown Ups. Worse, it’s about all the movie has to offer. There’s potential for drama, and occasionally the film threatens to throw a raincloud over the self-congratulatory parade, but it never amounts to anything: Kurt hits it off with Rita (and what’s the fuss over her being a Nanny or not?) – it’s Deanne who apologises for being obsessed with work; Eric displays signs of diabetes and is hiding his lack of success – neither are a problem; Roxanne’s miffed that Lenny is surreptitiously controlling his family’s lives? No worries, ‘cos it’s for her own good in the end.

The film is so satisfied with its objectionable grasp on life that it descends to a platitudinous homily from Gloria and manages to condescend the locals who never made it out of town: Lenny and his friends are winners anyway, they can afford to throw a poxy baseball game against the grateful rednecks. Thank goodness Steve Buscemi’s on hand(s) to give the lazy final act a little oomph.

Still, however unpromising the plot, or theme, comedies can be forgiven almost anything if they have funny jokes. Grown Ups does not have funny jokes, or anything approaching them. Instead, it has the sort of material Rob Schneider revels in: man face down in poo; man kicking another man in testicles; men weeing in swimming pool; woman face down in cake; same woman with disfigured toe; same woman (again) blaming smell of own fart on dog.

There’s also a child still breast-feeding aged four (a gag Little Britain already took to its extreme some time ago) and the idea that sex with older women is, in and of itself, gross. I get that the title Grown Ups is meant ironically, but the level of puerility in a film aimed at adults is unforgivable. That said, Arrow Roulette made me smile, which alone is worth an extra mark.

Regrettably – if inevitably – there’s also a leery sensibility where the attractive girls and wives are concerned, and a pointed meanness about women who are plain, or old, or oversized, or all three at once, even if it does provide a half-decent joke where four of the men end up looking at a tree when their ogling shifts go out of sync (and there’s no denying that Madison Riley’s pins are extraordinary). Grown Ups’ attempt to redress the balance is a gag about a hunk at the water park having a daft voice, which would be fine if it wasn’t ripped straight from The Man With Two Brains.

No doubt the makers of Grown Ups want us to go away musing on the precious friendships we take forward into adulthood; actually, I’m sure they couldn’t care less, so long as the box office is decent (decent enough for a sequel, it seems). Whatever, while the five men appear to be enjoying each other’s jokes, they project precious little towards us, the viewer, except the lowest of lowbrow slapstick and a depressing streak of paternalism. It all makes me want to revisit The Wedding Singer, from the period when Sandler had to work at his craft rather than sleepwalk through most of a movie, and sub-contract the rest.

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Basic Instinct 2

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: American novelist Catherine Tramell comes to/in London and falls foul of the law when a drugged footballer is fished out of the Thames in her sports car. The professional opinion of psychiatrist Michael Glass is that she’s dangerously addicted to risk, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing her in professional and non-professional capacities. Dr Glass should know that those who become involved in the writer’s intrigues rarely emerge unscathed.

Trouble follows novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) around. Zooming through London one night with out-of-it footballer Kevin Franks (Stan Collymore), she carelessly drives into the Thames in a moment of ecstasy, leaving poor Franks to drown. Suspecting the sportsman was drugged and effectively murdered, dour copper Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) arrests Tramell and hopes to remand her in custody, while Tramell’s lawyer enlists the services of psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey).

He testifies that Catherine is addicted to risk, but she’s let out anyway. Glass, reeling from the loss of his wife Denise (Indira Varma) to irksome journalist Adam Towers (Hugh Dancy), at least has consolation from colleague Milena (Charlotte Rampling) and the potential of a lucrative university appointment if he can keep famous Dr Gerst (Heathcote Williams) sweet; however, despite professional decorum he’s fascinated by Tramell and therapy sessions lead to sessions of a more intimate nature.

Glass is constantly troubled by thoughts of a previous patient who murdered his partner, and as the casualties pile up – Adam and Catherine’s drug dealer are killed, Denise has her throat cut – he doesn’t know who to trust: Washburn tells him Tramell’s a psychopathic killer and gives him the number of the San Francisco police, while she tries to convince him that Washburn is corrupt. There’s no-one more helpless than a psychiatrist who doesn’t know his own mind.

Although it was frequently politically dodgy, Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas’ Basic Instinct simmered with sweat, blood and an overripe tension which blazed off the screen back in 1992. By contrast, this belated sequel is cold, grey and British in the unsexiest way imaginable. Moving the action to London is a big mistake: the city looks sterile and lifeless, and if the continual shots of the ‘Gherkin’ (where Dr Glass works) are supposed to be suggestive they fail to arouse the necessary emotions – although both Michael’s office and Catherine’s flat feature some lovely interior design.

Importantly, the plot is undercooked, its main movers sharing a bizarrely cramped space – Michael’s friends with Washburn, Adam is the journo with the scoop on Washburn and the bloke who ruined Michael’s marriage, while Catherine knows everyone, apparently carnally. The story boils down to Glass deciding who to believe, but relies on him acting illogically (i.e. exactly as Tramell predicts) and failing to look for answers himself. And the alternative sequence of events proposed by Catherine in the film’s coda is pointless, a twist for twist’s sake.

You may, of course, have come here wondering not about plot mechanics but about the sex, in which case a) shame on you and b) you’re likely to be disappointed. There are a number of sex scenes, though relatively few between Catherine and Michael; they are clinically filmed, the danger of the ice pick replaced with an asphyxiating belt, and instantly forgettable. Stone is still an attractive woman and no-one should object to a woman being sexually enthusiastic in her mid-40s; on the other hand, the script serves her very poorly. Catherine was a fascinating creature in Basic Instinct, but she’s completely out of context in Old London Town and comes over as an aggressive and very rude troublemaker.

Stone creates no chemistry with other characters, particularly Morrissey who is himself a damp squib compared to Michael Douglas’s volatile powderkeg Curran. Although he eventually warms up as his situation becomes more desperate, Glass is mostly a stereotypically repressed Brit and Morrissey does little to bring him to life or make him ring true as a human being. For example, he might have substituted the line ‘someplace else’ for an English expression (i.e. ‘somewhere else’), and made more of the fact that, as a psychiatrist, he wouldn’t have been au fait with handling a gun. Still, you can’t blame the actor too much – the director is on record as hating the whole experience of making the film, particularly working with Stone, so the lack of attention to detail is hardly surprising.

Other aspects of the film are equally sloppy. Thewlis looks and acts the part of Washburn, but his choice of Welsh accent completely undermines the gravity of his role – not because a Metropolitan Police officer can’t come from Wales, but because Thewlis hasn’t mastered the accent, especially when he has to raise his voice. Despite the name being mentioned every five minutes, the Cheslav backstory comes to nothing, while the magazine article about ‘Detective X’, complete with clunky ‘FALSIFYING EVIDENCE’ sub-headers, is strangely repetitive. The film also has to lose points for the placement of the words ‘Sky box’ in the middle of the screen (a coincidence? Hmm, Sky News features too). Finally, throughout the movie I was waiting for music to fill in both aural and emotional gaps; Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is used, but not enough.

Plenty of sequels have no reason to exist, especially straight-to-video fare such as Road House 2; but Basic Instinct 2 is surely one of the most redundant sequels ever made, at least given the way it turned out. I understand it was made mainly to settle a lawsuit raised by Stone against the studios, and it certainly feels like the crew and cast alike let her get on with it and worked around her, not caring whether the final product came out lumpy and half-baked. Basic Instinct 2 isn’t awful, at least in the way of genuinely awful (and unintentionally funny) films like Barb Wire or Showgirls; it’s just dull and plainly made without love or enthusiasm.

Carry On Behind

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: A couple of randy husbands, a team on an archeological dig, some female friends, a married couple and their uncontrollable dog, an older couple and the mother-in-law, all go away on a caravanning holiday. Normal enough, you’d think; but this being the Carry Ons, mishaps and misunderstandings aplenty are bound to occur.

You may think you’ve seen this before, in the shape of Carry On Camping: but you’d be wrong. For this time most of the holidaymakers are towing caravans, hence (naturally) the ‘behind’ of the title. And you may not think that the description above details much of a plot: and you’d be right. For this late entry in the Carry On series is as bereft of a story as it is of decent jokes.

The film’s problems do partly stem from the fact that similar ground had already been covered (even the location is identical to Camping); partly from the fact that 70s Britain looks so cold and grey; but mostly from the fact that of the big names only Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims are present, and they look cold and grey too. Williams is Professor Crump, the archaeologist sent to investigate a series of Roman murals found on the caravan site run by crusty lecher Major Leep (Kenneth Connor), with statuesque Russian Anna Vooshka (Elke Sommer) on hand to ruin jokes that weren’t very good in the first place (watch Williams work his socks off to wring life from a gag where she pronounces ‘cramped’ a bit like ‘crumpet’); when they are thrown together in a small caravan, he has to ward off her double entendres and gets taken to hospital when he mistakes tomato sauce for blood following a gas explosion.

It’s sad that this relationship, with Sommer’s accent causing confusion of rude words for harmless ones, is pretty much the highlight of the film. Bernard Bresslaw and Patsy Rowlands make a pretty dull husband and wife, looking after an offensive mynah bird and the underused Sims, who discovers her estranged husband Peter Butterworth labouring on the campsite (but also stinking rich, in one of the film’s other bright moments). The other main plotline follows lascivious husbands Fred and Ernest, Jack Douglas and Windsor Davies taking the roles that Bresslaw and Sid James already did to death in Camping. Davies, as moustachioed, braggadocio Welshman Fred, hardly stretches himself, whilst Jack Douglas is utterly gormless as mopey angler Ernie; it is bizarre that either should be married, let alone consider themselves objects of desire to Carol Hawkins and Sherrie Hewson.

All the above-named are masters of comedy, however, when compared to the colourless additions to the cast. Ian Lavender and Adrienne Posta are terrible as the couple with the wandering Irish wolfhound, Larry Dann no better as a student, and George Layton is tiresome as a doctor. But really the fault lies at the door of scriptwriter Dave Freeman, who gives very few of the actors any decent lines, and lets the film meander through scenes in the shower block and a new Clubhouse (the paint on the chairs is still wet – everyone loses the seat of their pants!) until it finally peters out to a weak and illogical end: a load of holes appear in the ground, caravans fall into them, people get wet, and they all drive away except for Ken and Elke, who shows her knickers.

Carry On Behind is a poor film (technically, the editing is really shoddy), but thankfully the series was not far away from being put to bed, and there is little here that could be thought of as really offensive. But it’s a long way from the days where the Carry Ons could lay claim to parody, a structured, progressive plot, or crafted jokes instead of laboured innuendo and telegraphed pratfalls.

Fahrenheit 451

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Montag is a fireman, a job in which he visits houses and sets fire to any literature that he finds. Books are considered dangerous, causing unhappiness and subversion amongst the population, and those found hoarding them are destined never to be seen again. However, turned off by his soporific wife and fascinated by a bright, unconventional teacher who lives nearby, Montag begins to explore the literature himself, discovering a new world but placing him and those around him in mortal danger.

Although it is routinely labelled as science fiction, Ray Bradbury’s short novel Fahrenheit 451 is barely more an example of the genre than George Orwell’s 1984, using a vision of the future (and guessing at some technological advances that might be made in it) to make a contemporary point, in this case the importance of cultivating and maintaining the love of diverse literature in an age where vacuous television threatens to destroy the population’s capacity to think for itself. The point is as valid now as when the novel was written in the 50s or when François Truffaut’s film was released (although TV has been shown to have its benefits); however, given that film, like TV, is a visual medium and therefore part of the problem in Bradbury’s eyes, the novel’s defence of the written word was always likely to be best represented by the written word.

Nonetheless, Truffaut makes a clever start with the credits spoken over a profusion of TV aerials growing like weeds from houses, before sending Montag (Oskar Werner) out to an English estate to do their work under the leadership of captain Cyril Cusack, their bright red fire engine spewing kerosene over a barbecue of literature. In as much as he ever seems anything (see below), Montag seems quite content in his work, but a conversation with free-thinking neighbour Clarisse (Julie Christie) gets him thinking, in strict contrast to his conversations with his wife Linda (Christie again).

Linda talks about nothing except her relationship with ‘the family,’ the always-on television programmes that play on large wall-mounted screens throughout the house and offer an element, however empty, of interactivity. All Linda wants is to get a second screen in the main room for total immersion with her ‘cousins’ and pills to regulate her mood – even when these nearly kill her, the next day she is up and about with no reflections on her experience to offer.

When Montag and the crew find an old woman harbouring a large library of books and she chooses to be burnt along with them, he begins to question what secrets the literature holds and starts to read for himself, much to Linda and her friends’ disgust; the danger he puts himself in forces him to flee, eventually meeting up again with Clarisse and her group of ‘talking books,’ all of whom have memorised literature to be able to pass it on, safe from the torches of the firemen.

Although it doesn’t quite come together, it’s hard to criticise much of Truffaut’s vision of the future, even though some of the tricksy editing (jumping zooms, transitions to showing half the screen only) appears to exist solely for its own sake. The fire engine is quick, if a little Trumpton-esque to my British eyes; the trick with the firemen sliding up the pole is well executed, and the flat-screen televisions that feature in the Montags’ house are almost eerily prophetic. The use of the experimental Monorail is also a brave idea, even if scenes including it never quite match up with shots of where Montag and Clarisse live (they get off the Monorail in the middle of a (French) field!).

On the downside, the police informant boxes and bollards both look very silly, the never-specified location tells us much more about 1966 England than any dystopian future, and a ‘flying’ squad which looks for Montag late in the film when he is on the run is utterly hopeless; this dreadful effect is especially annoying since it takes the place of the Mechanical Hounds that were presumably too tricky to create for film, but are the source of a great deal of the tension in Bradbury’s novel.

This issue might easily have been overcome by the performance of Montag, who after all makes a huge personal journey from thoughtless book-burner to manic book guardian, discovering new universes, emotions and modes of expression every time he opens a new work. In Oskar Werner, however, Truffaut has cast a man who (for me at least) cuts the film dead. Speaking English adequately but stiffly, and portraying no emotion in either face or voice, Werner’s Montag remains as impassive and immutable as a firebrick, whether he is moved, scared, or turning his fireman’s torch on his colleagues.

The adequate efforts of everyone around Werner – Christie is perfectly good in two roles, even if the gesture is redundant – are completely ruined by his inertia. When he begins to read David Copperfield, we should get a sense that Montag is excited but scared of his own subversiveness: as it is, we only worry that he’s about to nod off at any moment. The fault must lie with Truffaut, who imposes a European feel on an English-language film (loading the screen with books featuring Jean Genet, Salvador Dali etc.), possibly without the experience of English to know when a scene is working and when it is dragging terribly.

Given the virtually unwatchable central performance, complaints about the lack of detail about why society has become like this, and who is in control, or the essential naffness of the ending (with people not reading to each other, merely reading aloud to themselves – who learns anything from that?) become rather piffling. Truffaut may be a legend of French cinema, of cinema worldwide in fact, but this English-language effort is a slow, dull trial to watch, hence the score. For all its many faults, given that it has some drive, purpose and a motivated central character, I would gladly watch the similarly-themed Equilibrium rather than Fahrenheit 451 any day. As there is supposedly a new version in production, I can only hope it will strike the right balance between making a point about modern culture and film-friendly action.

Bedazzled (2000)

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Nerdy, nervous computer geek Elliot Richards is made one hell of an offer by the Devil in a Red Dress: 7 wishes for the measly cost of his soul. But Elliot discovers that the Princess of Darkness can never be trusted to keep up her end of the bargain, and concludes that she will never give him his deepest wish – to be with the girl of his dreams.

Marvellous though Peter Cook and Dudley Moore undoubtedly were on television, stage and record, as a double act they did not suit the medium of film; and Bedazzled fell distinctly flat despite the odd bright moment in their script. Nevertheless, the idea of a modern-day Faustian pact interested Stripes and Ghostbusters alumnus Harold Ramis sufficiently to co-write and direct this remake; having just seen the film, I have the question ‘In God’s name, why?’ hovering about my lips.

Since I am not going to get an answer, I had better explain Bedazzled to the uninitiated. Brendan Fraser is Elliot Richards, a boring, overbearing Tech Support guy whose colleagues do everything in their power to avoid him socially. Elliot is oblivious to all this, however, since all he really cares about is Alison (Frances O’Connor), another colleague who sadly doesn’t know he exists. Into Elliot’s life comes slinky temptress Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil Incarnate; she promises him everything he desires as long as he signs his soul away, but – just like in Pete and Dud’s version – there’s a catch to each:

  • He’s a rich and powerful Columbian drug lord, but Alison is conducting an affair with her English teacher Raoul (cue lazy stereotyping, unamusing gunfights and pointless stunts)
  • He’s a sensitive, weepy soul who gets sand kicked in his face, passed over by Alison for one of the bullies who promises to treat her badly
  • He’s an incredibly tall and incredibly proficient basketball player, but sadly one with an incredibly small penis
  • He’s a witty and successful writer who sweeps Alison off her feet, only to have their night interrupted by his gay lover (more stereotypes!)
  • He’s the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States – only trouble is, he’s Abraham Lincoln and has a play to watch
  • Oh, he’s been tricked out of one of his wishes when he bought himself a fast food meal, but…

it doesn’t really matter since Elliot refuses to make his seventh wish, earning him a stay in jail and advice from a mysterious stranger (Gabriel Casseus). The Devil gets nasty, but at the last minute Elliot wishes for Alison to have a happy life, the selfless act giving him a get-out clause.

While the jokes in the original Bedazzled were more miss than hit, there was at least a hint of intelligence about the rants against organised religion and modern society that is totally overlooked here in favour of fast cars, product placement and unconvincing special effects. None of the sketches raise so much as a chortle, and the linking scenes where Hurley (like Cook) causes petty mischief whilst granting wishes are equally humourless, the reason being that Liz Hurley is all-consumingly awful in the role of Satan.

She cannot act, she cannot ‘do’ being cross, she has no sense of humour, timing or irony, she has no chemistry with Fraser (gormless but harmless by comparison), and she barely connects with her surroundings. Worse still, despite the ridiculous and unnecessary amount of costume changes the viewer quickly comes to realise that she’s not even that attractive, just a big-lipped Sloane Ranger with a passable body and more phone numbers of important people than she has talent.

Seriously, if you thought she was ordinary in Austin Powers, that was a masterclass in comic acting compared to her witless posing here. In her defence, you might blame the scriptwriters, and I would too, or say that Cook was no actor either; true, but at least Cook gave off an air of malevolent haughtiness, whereas Hurley gives off…nothing at all.

Perhaps it is the scriptwriters who are more to blame, as they have smoothed off the harsher edges of Bedazzled – some of which were pretty nasty – to make a film where Elliot is not so much of a loser as Stanley Moon was and, perplexingly, the Devil is not such a bad egg after all (though Hurley’s acting stinks like a… okay, enough of that). And this is another crucial mistake: Ramis decides that what this story needs, like his brilliant Groundhog Day, is a little bit of heart, hence the cringe-making episode with Gabriel Casseus in the jail cell and the soppy He-Man-like speeches about making choices instead of merely wishing your life away.

But whereas Groundhog Day let Phil Connors come to his own conclusions, Bedazzled spells it out in clumsy pro-God moralising which is also a world away from the welcome, amoral fence-sitting of Pete and Dud’s original. Then, just when you think the film has come to a sensible conclusion as Elliot – older and wiser for his experiences – is rejected by an already-attached Alison, it goes and gives him a new neighbour called Nicole who is her exact double (as in also played by O’Connor), only with an annoying voice. Oh, as they say somewhere, puh-leeze.

I didn’t like 1967’s Bedazzled, despite admiring its stars and director very much; but it’s a damn sight better than this version, which I have scored as generously as I have on the basis that it is rarely anything more than mildly offensive, except (one last time!) where Ms Hurley’s ‘acting’ is concerned. Avoid at all costs unless you have a particular thing for posh English totty, and watch one of Ramis’s decent/earlier films instead.

Carry on Girls

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: In the sleepy seaside town of Fircombe (geddit?), Councillor Sidney Fiddler plans to liven up the tourist trade by holding a pageant, much to the dismay of his bride to-be Connie Philpotts, whose hotel is overrun by the bevy of beauties. Sid ingeniously drums up publicity for the show but he is unprepared for the meddling of rival councillor, arch-feminist Augusta Prodworthy.

While ‘dignified’ would never be the first word used to describe the Carry ons, there is always a sense of fun in the series’ best examples (Cleo, Cowboy, Up the Khyber) and the knowledge that if one joke isn’t to your taste, there will be another one along in a couple of seconds. Carry on Girls, with its one-note script by a deeply uninspired Talbot Rothwell, feels murky and decidedly undignified.

There are several reasons for this, not least of which is the age of the Carry on crew by this point in time. Sid James puts his all into the role of randy Cllr Fiddler but looks old, and it’s barely credible that he would captivate widowed Connie Philpotts (Joan Sims, asked to be more shrill than usual), let alone Babs Windsor, who turns up on a motorbike as Hope Springs, aka Miss Easy Rider. Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey are sorely missed, as too much screen time is left to lesser lights like Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor, who plays the oafish, ineffectual Mayor Bumble. It is significant, too, that Carry on Girls is not a parody of another genre but a film showing contemporary England; this is bound to date the film, and the scenes in Bumble’s house paint the seaside town, and the seventies as a whole, as a rather grim place.

Not having a genre or film to lampoon also means that the script has to come up with its own gags, and Carry on Girls is particularly bare on this front (pun intended). There are a few basic jokes that are stretched beyond tolerance: in the first, buxom contestant Dawn Brakes (Margaret Nolan) has part of her clothing torn off, either by somebody’s clumsiness or by Hope in an effort to get the beauty show more publicity – this scene in particular, with the two women chasing each other round the hotel lobby on all fours, definitely fails to qualify as dignified, and Nolan is further humiliated during a photo-shoot with Robin Askwith as Peter Butterworth’s clumsy, lascivious admiral lands on top of her.

The second joke is a variation on the first involving the removal of Kenneth Connor’s trousers; the third is a series of pratfalls, personified in Jack Douglas’ William, performed in verbally and physically twitchy Alf Ippititimus mode; and then there’s the tiresome innuendo, with every reference to doing ‘it’ milked, plus two separate stabs at a joke about taking down knickers.

There are a couple of bright moments, for example when publicist Bernard Bresslaw is made to pose as a contestant when a television crew appears, or whenever Patsy Rowlands is on screen as the mayor’s gloriously slovenly wife; but the highlights are few and far between and lost among the film’s highly dubious sexual politics. June Whitfield plays the councillor opposed to the beauty contest; with an assistant who dresses in a tie and suit (so is almost certainly a lesbian), she organises the local women’s lib movement and activates their dowdy ranks into causing chaos at the beauty show.

While this does provide the film with a climax of sorts, it also suggests that there are essentially two types of women: dolly birds (the film’s term, not mine) and flat-chested harpies. There is, naturally, only one kind of man, the sort who goes ‘Phwooar’ at other women but expects virginal chastity in his own partner – Bresslaw lays down the law to fiancée Paula (Valerie Leon, unaccountably dubbed) because her costume shows off her belly button (‘I will own you!’ he says, referring to their impending marriage). The film does give an example of another type of man, but the less said about monstrously camp TV producer Cecil Gaybody (Jimmy Logan) – yes, he’s actually called Gayboy at one point – the better.

Without a decent story or script, Carry on Girls is a sad example of the fag-end of the Carry on series, reflecting the fact that when the films were good they could be very good, but when they were bad they were pretty horrid. When I say that worse was to come – Carry on England and Carry on Emmannuelle followed – it is not to give much praise to this film, but to indicate the direness of the later efforts. You have been warned!

Cruel Intentions 2: Manchester Prep

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Mischievous pupil Sebastian Valmont travels to New York to live with his father and stepmother, and his new stepsister Kathryn Merteuil, the high-flying student president at Manchester prep school. Sebastian begins a tentative relationship with chaste headmaster’s daughter Danielle, while Kathryn makes it her mission to ruin the relationship in any way she can. She also finds time to make a project of deflowering silly, innocent schoolmate Cherie.

If you’ve seen the first Cruel Intentions, or have read Les Liaisons Dangereuses on which it is based, you’ll know that there’s a very good reason why there are no further adventures of Kathryn and Sebastian. In order to continue his series, writer/director Roger Kumble takes us back to a time when his characters were young and a little more callow, though no less callous.

Escaping from a dreadful reputation and his mother’s drug problems, Sebastian (a bushy-browed Robin Dunne) arrives in New York and is bowled over by the opulence of his new surroundings, funded by foxy stepmother Tiffany (Mimi Rogers). He’s astounded that his philandering father (David McIlwraith) has managed to land on his feet, and he’s belittled by his new stepsister Kathryn (Amy Adams), but intellectually he proves to be her match. They both attend Manchester Prep school, where Kathryn is student body president and also runs a secret Tribunal, which judges peers and decides who does, or doesn‘t, make the grade.

Kathryn decides to take insanely wealthy and innocently idiotic Cherie (Keri Lynn Pratt) down a peg or two by introducing her to sinful pleasures, while Sebastian romances reluctant headmaster’s daughter Danielle (Sarah Thompson). Kathryn takes against the match and puts obstacles in her brother’s way – including herself – to try to get Sebastian to show his true colours. Sebastian is determined to stay on the straight and narrow to win Danielle’s love, but is she the innocent lamb she makes out to be?

If you have seen the first Cruel Intentions, you’ll find much of Manchester Prep very familiar, from the first scene (Sebastian casually ruining someone’s life) to the quarry (for Cecile read Cherie) to the look of the piece (Danielle and Annette share the same taste in sky-blue tops). Unfortunately, not only is this rehashing deeply unoriginal, it’s also done with undercooked, if not raw, acting talent. Adams (now very bankable, of course) is more convincing acting weak and petulant than seductive or manipulative here, whilst Dunne exhibits little of Valmont’s lady-killing charm or cool (indeed, when Kathryn gratuitously throws two naked sisters in his way, he doesn’t know where to put himself). No doubt those involved would say it’s all deliberate, showing that the younger Valmont and Merteuil weren’t quite the finished article; but neither impersonation made me think the youngsters were remotely likely to turn into Ryan Philippe or Sarah Michelle Gellar.

I didn’t much enjoy the introduction of everything that was left out of the original, either. For example, there’s school life, which as you’d expect takes the film into well-worn, cliquey Heathers/Mean Girls territory; worse, by including Sebastian’s father and Kathryn’s mother, Kumble makes the enfants terribles little more than chips off the old block, which answers questions you didn’t ask and psychologically isn’t very satisfying. Indeed, the original worked precisely because the parents’ absence (and implied neglect) allowed Sebastian and Kathryn to conduct their warped relationship. The international house staff, meanwhile, act as little more than comic relief, and a bone of contention between the bickering step-siblings.

Then there’s the question of why the plot (Kathryn and Sebastian’s rivalry, and Sebastian’s wooing of Danielle) is so divorced from the subplot (Kathryn’s corruption of Cherie); it’s as if the two weren’t intended to be part of the same movie. The answer lies in the film’s genesis: Cruel Intentions was made as a TV series, but after making the pilot and another episode, Fox became squeamish and cancelled the show. The two shows were cobbled together and – with some new, naughtier footage spliced in, Snakes on a Plane-style – Cruel Intentions 2 was born. This explains many of the unresolved plot points and underused characters that crop up in the film, and also accounts for Danielle’s sudden personality change late on. It goes without saying that it also explains the otherwise nonsensical line ‘We sound like a cancelled television series.’ An explanation, however, is not the same as a valid excuse; and while you can’t blame the producers for trying to recoup some of their expenditure, the straight-to-video result is not a great work of art – or, for that matter, a particularly alluring piece of sleaze.

Very briefly towards the end of the film, Cruel Intentions 2 steams up a bit and behaves like a proper film, though it quickly goes back off the boil during a silly twist and daft denouement. If it had been designed, financed and structured as a film from the off, Manchester Prep might have stood a chance; if it had been allowed to blossom into a raunchier-than-usual teen TV show, Cruel Intentions might have made a few waves (and Dunne may well have grown into the role). As it turned out, this choppy, lacklustre prequel is destined to please pretty much no-one.