Tag Archives: 5/20

The Parole Officer

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Unpopular parole officer Simon Garden no sooner arrives in Manchester than he becomes embroiled in murder and police corruption. To free himself from the tyranny of bent Inspector Burton, he needs to retrieve a videotape from a bank vault; and to carry out the job, he needs to lure his three success stories away from the straight and narrow while keeping his potential new love, policewoman Emma, in the dark.

Simon Garden (Steve Coogan) is not a well-loved figure in the Blackpool parole office; and when a tribunal asks for supportive voices, he can only muster three reformed convicts out of the thousand or so he has worked with: ageing Asian George (Om Puri), dumb lump Jeff (Steven Waddington) and effeminate tech expert Colin (Ben Miller). Garden’s not sent to Coventry but to Manchester, where he encounters both arrogant Inspector Burton (Stephen Dillane) and the more approachable WPC Emma (Lena Headey) whilst investigating the misdemeanours of 15-year-old joyrider Kirsty (Emma Williams).

Simon’s not convinced that Kirsty has anything to do with drugs found in her car and tails Burton to a lapdancing club, where he witnesses the Inspector throttling the accountant of drugs baron Cochran (John Henshaw). Garden’s spotted and Burton intimidates him into silence by threatening to frame him for the murder; but Garden doesn’t take well to the threat and resolves to prove Burton’s guilt. The only way to do this is by retrieving the club’s CCTV tape, which Cochran has deposited in a safety deposit box at the local bank; and knowing former criminals turns out to be a perk of the job, even if Victor, a potentially useful master of disguise, has apparently met his maker. Can Simon persuade his reformed charges to backslide? Can he keep the keen-to-help Kirsty under control? And can his ‘gang’ keep clear of the law while Simon woos the lovely Emma?

Although he had played medium-sized roles in films such as The Wind in the Willows and The Indian in the Cupboard, The Parole Officer was Steve Coogan’s first film as lead; so you would imagine he and long-time co-writer Henry Normal would make absolutely sure that their script was as good as it could possibly be. Which makes it all the more puzzling that the film is horrendously written. In general terms, the comedy is based firmly in the gutter, concentrating on bodily fluids, genitalia, boobs and a sequence of (literally) toilet humour; more specifically, the plotting is poor, relying on various unlikely contrivances to force the story into some sort of shape, not least Emma instantly falling in love with the distinctly unloveable Simon (a deleted scene suggested they were at school together, where he stood up for a teacher’s rights).

Victor’s incredibly useful workshop is a lazy plot device, while there’s also a clunking Deus ex machina via a cameo which I won’t spoil for the uninitiated – but don’t get too excited. The poor writing might be excused if it led to a ridiculously overblown set-piece, but one of the movie’s big dramatic moments is – I kid you not – whether a beachball will inflate successfully. And since little of the comedy works, the viewer has plenty of time to poke at the plot: wouldn’t an experienced copper like Burton take CCTV into account? Couldn’t Simon manage another two minutes without having something to eat? How does he get into that light fitting? What’s the deal with the wasp?

The other problem with the writing is that it gives The Parole Officer paper-thin characterisations. Coogan is a good comic actor and capable of mimicking anyone, so it’s unfortunate that his Simon Garden copies many of Alan Partridge’s (for which read Coogan’s own) mannerisms. The members of Garden’s ‘gang’ are no more than vague sketches, looking the part (Puri’s George seems to be an interpretation of Tom Wilkinson’s Gerald in The Full Monty) but having no depth whatsoever.

They’re no Ladykillers, that’s for sure, and although the addition of a recidivist girl into the mix isn’t as awkward as it could have been – she might have been a dreadful brat – Emma Williams can’t do much to liven up the part of Kirsty. I’ve already mentioned Emma, whose motivations are all over the place (poor Lena just grins and bares it), while Dillane smarms effectively without bothering to prove himself a villain. And then it just ends, with a snog and an uneasy dance number.

British comedies very often get a bad rap; but if Four Weddings and a Funeral proved that Brits could write filmworthy material, The Parole Officer shows that all too often we churn out rubbish that is barely good enough for TV*. It’s no Sex Lives of the Potato Men – come to that, it’s no Kevin and Perry Go Large – but Coogan’s talents really deserve better than this forgettable, lowbrow and lazy outing. Still, since he co-wrote the thing, he’s only got himself to blame.

NOTES: This isn’t intended to be a criticism of TV. Indeed, Coogan has written for and/or appeared in some excellent television programmes (the Partridge material, Cruise of the Gods and Saxondale, to name just a few). My guess – since they’ve not returned to film scripts – is that Coogan and Normal realised that they should stick to what they know, namely short-form writing for comic characters.


American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile

WFTB Score: 5/20

The Plot: Erik Stifler frets that he is letting down the family name as he is a Senior and still a virgin. As understanding girlfriend Tracy – not ready for sex herself – gives him a ‘Guilt Free Pass’ for a weekend at his cousin’s college, surely Erik will pop his cherry during the ‘Naked Mile’ event where everyone bares all and has a wild time, egged on by Dwight, a fun-loving drinking champion who epitomises everything the Stiflers represent.

You might have thought that the masturbatory impulses of teenage boys had been exhaustively explored by the original American Pie Trilogy; indeed, you might well have had enough after the first one, acknowledged that every generation must have its Porky’s, and been surprised by the appearance of any sequels. But it appeared there was still some mileage (excuse the pun) in the franchise in the form of American Pie Presents… This is the second of those films, Band Camp having represented a deeply unpromising start.

Almost all of the original cast have moved on, so The Naked Mile introduces us to Erik Stifler (John White), the frustrated virgin afraid of being a laughing stock if he doesn’t get laid before graduating. Actually he’s introduced by having him ejaculate over his granny, causing her to have a fatal seizure. Now call me sensitive, but isn’t that just a bit unpleasant? Even within the realms of teen comedy, killing your own grandmother with semen, however accidentally, is surely a bit much? Perhaps I’m old and foolish.

Anyway, Erik’s girlfriend Tracy (Jessy Schram) is for some unaccountable reason keen not to lose him, so agrees to have sex with him, although the experience goes horribly wrong as the pair are interrupted by her father. She then has a change of mind, but to settle the issue tells Erik he can have sex with whoever he likes when he and his friends visit Cousin Dwight’s (Steve Talley) frat house for the Naked Mile weekend, a wild event where the students get nekkid to ‘de-stress.’ Erik does meet someone but is unsure whether or not he should act as his hormones tell him to or stay faithful to the girl he loves. His friends and cousin, of course, have no such dilemma and are free to do as they please.

The Naked Mile is not without its moments, but suffers because the script assumes familiarity with the American Pie world and doesn’t bother to mould rounded characters itself. We are obviously meant to equate Erik with Jim Levenstein, but Jason Biggs’ character was well established in the first film; he looked like a loser and acted like a loser, whereas Erik is a fairly pretty boy with no obvious characteristics other than horniness. The same goes for his friends: Ryan and Cooze (Ross Thomas and Jake Siegel) are bland, cute and completely cardboard, lacking the nerdy awkwardness of Sh*tbreak or the dumb jock appeal of Oz.

The Naked Mile compensates for this by shoehorning Jim’s Dad (Eugeny Levy) into the picture, having him separately dispense advice to Tracy and Erik, and also have him as the starter of the Naked Mile, in more than one sense. It’s a pretty lame effort to link the films; not that Levy does much wrong, but he is not in the same awkward situation as before and he is reduced to recounting Jim’s disasters (we know, we saw the movies too!). Without the characterisation, the sexy/gross-out humour exists in something of a vacuum.

That humour is largely compressed into three set-pieces. First is a football game between Stifler’s house and a house comprised mostly of little people; second is the Naked Mile itself; third is the party afterwards, where due to the taking of a Viagra-like pill Ryan and Cooze participate in a form of Penis Olympics, the games including bucket-balancing, hoopla and baseball. The football game is OK but goes on rather too long, whilst the Naked Mile, with hundreds of students running around (shot from the waist up or the rear) only goes to prove the Showgirls rule that nudity is neither funny nor sexy in and of itself.

The penis competition is actually amusing, but it descends into a trailer for the virtues of booze and (Trojan condom-wearing) sex. And this is where the film is more offensive to me than the deceased granny: in showing the party becoming a drinks-fuelled arena for the youngsters to pair off and mate, it (and many other films like it) to an extent becomes aspirational, especially when Tracey’s friends advise her that the only way to balance up her decision is to lose her virginity to someone else. It appears to encourage its audience (largely fifteen to eighteen year olds) to look forward to college as an unstoppable orgy.

Of course, neither Erik nor Tracy can go through with the sex and are reunited to declare their love to each other (and have sex!); but whereas the couplings of American Pie had a genuine sense of finding the right woman about them, here the message mostly seems to be that it doesn’t matter who you get with as long as you get with someone.

Perhaps it’s wrong to over-analyse movies like The Naked Mile, whose cheap thrills and vulgar laughs will no doubt prove a pleasant hour and a half to many viewers. It’s not hideous – granny-murdering apart – but its casual approach to sex and relationships contains no suggestion whatsoever of the concept of respect; in return, it would seem inappropriate to give any to this film.

Run, Fatboy, Run

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Slobbish security guard Dennis Doyle is going nowhere, and not just because he’s out of shape. Five years ago he left his pregnant fiancée Libby at the altar, and he’s regretted it ever since; so when Libby appears on the arm of a successful, fit American called Whit, he is spurred on to run a marathon. Just one niggling issue: the race is four weeks away and he’s never run properly in his life.

I’ll let you into a little inside-the-box secret: occasionally, in fact increasingly since I’ve had to (figuratively) go out and sing for my supper, I don’t get round to reviewing a film until a few days after I’ve seen it. Being a man who cares about the accuracy of what he says, I generally like to literally re-view the film, even if half of it is on fast-forward, to confirm my opinions; but with Run, Fatboy, Run (watched about three weeks ago) I’m pretty sure I can do the film justice without seeing it again. Hopefully, ever.

Simon Pegg is Dennis Doyle, an unfit, cigarette-addicted security guard for a tiny lingerie store, living in a dingy basement flat below his landlord Mr Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and only just scraping a living. Dennis’ life has been defined by his cowardice five years previously when he ran away from his own wedding and marriage to Libby (Thandie Newton), at the time carrying their son Jake (Matthew Fenton).

Although relations between them are amicable for Jake’s sake, there seems to be little chance of the couple giving it another go; and when suave American banker Whit (Hank Azaria) appears on the scene, all hope is lost. At least Whit appears to be a good guy, considerate towards Jake and super-fit, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from moaning about him to his friend and Libby’s cousin Gordon (Dylan Moran), a hopeless gambler in hock to a shady group of ‘friends’, including smalltime gangster Vincent (Simon Day).

Having been humiliated by Whit whilst trying to get Jake tickets for the Lord of the Rings musical (remember that?), Dennis resolves to prove himself to Jake and Libby by playing Whit at his favourite game – ironically, running. Gordon makes a potentially lucrative but fantastically dangerous bet with Vincent and backs Dennis to complete a marathon in London by coaching him, Mr Goshdashtidar providing extra, painful motivation; however, Whit takes the wind out of his sails by proposing to Libby in grand style on her birthday, and when it comes to the race itself, Whit will go to absolutely any lengths not to be outshone.

Run, Fatboy, Run employs a comedy formula that was quite entertainingly adapted for jobless Northerners in The Full Monty but was already horribly hackneyed by the time it was used in the boorish Beerfest. Not that it needs repeating, but here it is anyway: a lovable loser at a dead end has his inadequacies rubbed in his face by someone successful but psychologically flawed, who probably also has a place in the affections of our loser’s true love (there needn’t be a kid as well, but there often is). The loser decides he’s going to get himself into shape by challenging – at ho-ho-hopeless odds – his rival at the thing his rival does best; and even though there are setbacks, and the plucky loser may or may not succeed in the specific challenge, he will reveal his enemy’s flaw and succeed in both love and life, as he has learnt valuable life lessons just by rising to the challenge.

This being the case, it’s up to Michael Ian Black as writer, Pegg as actor and co-writer, and Friends star Schwimmer as director, to breathe life, energy and jokes into a potentially over-familiar tale. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are not up to this challenge and the result is a stale, predictable lump of a film. I’m a fan of Pegg, but neither his character nor those he has a hand in creating feel like they have any connection with real people, particularly British ones. Libby has very little motivation of her own, Gordon is a lazy combination of Moran’s standard persona and Rhys Ifans’ Spike from Notting Hill, and Whit reveals a nasty streak which is utterly predictable yet out of character with what we’ve seen of him previously.

Worse, most of the film’s jokes fail to rise above the juvenile, lacking the invention of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (the latter film was prepared to try things, even if they didn’t all come off). Instead, there’s a procession of groin rubbing, blister bursting, naked bottoms and swearing in English, Asian or children’s voices, all of which is okay for a brief chuckle but hardly a platform for a feature film.

As director, Schwimmer shows very little story-telling flair, resorting to flashbacks within a quarter of an hour, a by-the-numbers training montage and a thuddingly literal interpretation of the ‘wall’ that runners face. He also opts for a typical American realisation of the race, interpreted through TV pundits who are stiff as boards: Denise Lewis and Chris Hollins are hardly big stars, so why not invent some commentators with character?

He also has Libby and Jake jumping away from the over-the-top television coverage to be at the event, a touch owing more than a little to The Truman Show. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous and thoroughly obnoxious product placement which must have paid for a fair slice of the production costs but pervades to a distracting degree; if the idea is to mimic the flavour and colour of the real London Marathon, Schwimmer fails dismally by covering everything in a garish orange.

Actually, if I absolutely had to watch Run, Fatboy, Run again, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. It has a few funny moments, though these are everything to do with Pegg, Moran and Azaria’s talents as comedians rather than anything the director or script can bring to the party. Watching it for a second time, I’d know exactly how it all pans out. Unfortunately, I had guessed to the last detail how it would pan out within five minutes of watching it for the first time.

Carry On Abroad

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A rag-tag group of holidaymakers head for sun, sangria and sauciness in the Spanish resort of Elsbels. Problem is, the hotel’s not finished, there’s hardly anyone to serve them, there’s nothing to see and even the weather doesn’t play along. No wonder even the saintly minds of men of the cloth turn to a bit of the other.

Crafty landlord Vic Flange (Sid James) is desperate to get away for a holiday, but that’s less to do with the hectoring of his wife Cora (Joan Sims) than the charms of regular punter Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). When Cora catches on that by impure coincidence Sadie, like Vic, is taking a trip to Elsbels, she insists on tagging along too, marching her husband down the travel agents to join the package holiday organised by rep Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams) and his leggy assistant Miss Plunkett (Gail Grainger).

Also climbing on board are good-time girls Lily and Marge (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins), one of whom catches the eye of would-be monk Brother Bernard (Bresslaw). The frisky mood of the party is taken up by frustrated husband Stanley Blunt (Kenneth Connor), who later takes a shine to Cora because his wife Evelyn (June Whitfield) has no truck with his amorous advances – while she’s sober, at any rate.

Meanwhile, fellow voyager Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan) makes his own ardent advances towards Sadie; effeminate Robin (John Clive) has a series of hissy fits with his friend Nicholas; and mummy’s boy Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey) is happy to keep himself to himself, so long as he has a bottle for company. The holidaymakers are all in the mood for a good time, which is a shame since the hotel they’re staying in is still a building site, with the Brits forced to share bathrooms and rely on the harassed staff: manager/porter/receptionist Pepe (Peter Butterworth), exasperated chef Floella (Hattie Jacques) and their lothario waiter son Giorgio (Ray Brooks). If they’re not quite set to endure the holiday from hell, the tourists certainly have to make their own fun in Elsbels, even if their idea of a fun day out lands them in jail.

I’ve seen enough Carry Ons now to have a pretty good idea of how the series pans out, and Carry On Abroad fits entirely predictably into the pattern of the later movies. Which is to say, not having a genre or specific film to parody, or pompous authority figures to lampoon, the film instead deals with a slightly drab aspect of 70s British life and unsurprisingly struggles for laughs as a result.

The problem is best exemplified by a summary of what happens in the film: the party take a coach trip to the airport, arrive at the unfinished Palace Hotel and have dinner; have a morning’s sunbathing; take a trip into town which turns – tee hee – into a bunfight and arrests; and a farewell party enlivened by an overdose of love potion and cut short by natural disasters (depressingly, the plot of Carry on Behind is almost identical).

Within this desperately thin frame, Sid carries on his usual doomed wooing of Babs (to Joan‘s swivel-eyed disapproval), Ken is as scared of Miss Plunkett as enamoured of her, Peter goes increasingly mental as events spiral out of control, and Charles drinks his way through the entire film. All of this is done on a typically minuscule budget, of course, so the air travel is stock footage and there’s no chance of the gang getting near a real beach.

As one of the later Carry Ons there are other difficulties too: Talbot Rothwell’s script is high on ladies in (and out of) brassieres, lazy double entendres and references to ’it’, and low on invention and wit. Everyone looks a bit long in the tooth, not least Sid, Babs and Charles Hawtrey (indeed, this was his final appearance in the series); and some of the troupe are criminally underused, not least Hattie Jacques who is reduced to flannelling in the kitchen and sweating over the ‘bloodings’ stove. Furthermore, the new faces, such as John Clive and Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan, fail to make much of an impression – or rather, their characters are so flatly written that they don’t stand a chance.

Carry on Abroad is not a complete loss; at least Jacques is in it, Jack Douglas merely bookends the piece, and whilst it’s surprisingly explicit (after this long, there’s nowhere for Babs to go except completely naked), it narrowly avoids the hopelessly unamusing smut of Girls and Emmannuelle. On the other hand, this is not even half as good as a Khyber or a Cleo; anyone who says otherwise is trading on pure nostalgia and would be well advised to revisit the good ol’ days.

Earth Girls are Easy

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Troubled California manicurist Valerie has her swimming pool invaded by a trio of furry aliens. Mack, the leader of these, takes Valerie’s eye, forcing her to decide between him and her intended husband, dodgy doctor Ted. The other aliens, meanwhile, cause havoc of their own.

‘Plastic’ is the word that instantly comes to mind when trying to describe Earth Girls are Easy, and not just because the film’s first shot is of a very cheap spaceship that looks more like a toy than anything a life-form could reasonably travel in. The whole film is wrapped in a sheen of primary-colours 80s artificiality, which makes it a distracting experience at this distance of time.

Anway, Geena Davis is Valerie, one of the Earth girls of the title, a manicurist so desperate for love/sex (the film doesn’t make much of a distinction between the two) that she is willing to overlook the obvious philandering of her fiancé, arrogant doctor Ted (Charles Rocket), and blames herself for his not wanting to have sex with her.

Spying on Valerie from a distance are three hirsute humanoids, who crash-land in her swimming pool and, whilst waiting for the pool to drain, get tidied up with the help of Valerie’s friend Candy (Julie Brown, also one of the film’s writers). The discovery that the colourful aliens are, underneath, three quite cute guys – Mack (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zebo (Damon Wayans) – causes quite a stir, not least within Valerie.

Earth Girls are Easy aims to be a bright, frothy, slightly naughty comedy in a similar vein to Splash!, but is hampered by a massive lack of confidence in its own material. The first part of the film contains a number of overproduced songs which set it up as a musical, but the film steers away from this direction as it gives way to the love interest between Valerie and Mack, the musical idea only making a brief return for Candy’s ’Cause I’m a Blond.

Instead of songs, the film fills the time with items such as Zebo taking part in a protracted dance contest, then Zebo and Wiploc being taken for robbers when pool-drainer Woody (Michael McKean, in annoying surfer-dude mode) tries to take them to the beach. During this time, Mack and Valerie fall for each other, but she vacillates between the exotic new stranger and Ted.

I suspect nervous producers had a hand in cutting out some of Julie Brown’s songs and putting in more comedy; the problem is that the film struggles for laughs throughout, not helped by the fact that the characters are incredibly shallow. We never really get a handle on who the aliens are or where they are from, and neither Carrey nor Wayans, both in very early roles, can do much with the broad fish-out-of-water material they’re given.

The humans are all fine examples of Californian vacuity, so it is hard to either believe in them or care how they turn out: Davis is the best of the bunch, but it is hard to see what she could possibly see in the loathsome Ted, or why she would even consider giving him a second chance. There are flashes of invention – after Valerie and Mack make love, there is a disturbing dream sequence in which Davis imagines her neighbourhood populated by sci-fi monsters and robots (a nod to The Fly?) – and there are a few gems in the dialogue, such as: ‘Finland is the capital of Denmark’ or, Mack after being cleaned up at the hairdressers: ‘Valerie – are we limp and hard to manage?’ But all in all, the film is too wilfully stupid to raise many laughs.

Not a musical, not a great love story, certainly not a science fiction film and not much of a comedy adventure either, Earth Girls are Easy is not as much fun as it could easily have been. It has its incidental pleasures, but fans of any of the above genres would do well to go in search of the real thing.

The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Construction worker and caveman Fred Flintstone feels something is missing in his otherwise perfect prehistoric life. It’s not a friend, as he has faithful dope Barney as a constant companion; it’s not advice, as Fred has a sniffy alien called the Great Gazoo to help him; but it may be the love of a good woman. Can Gazoo, on a mission to observe human mating habits, steer both Fred and Barney into the arms of beautiful women who will put up with the boys’ primitive ways?

While it gets occasional runs on the BBC, the cartoon series of The Flintstones never really made much of an impact here (to anyone born after 1970, anyway), Britain unaccustomed to the Honeymooners sitcom on which it was based. Nonetheless, the prehistoric families living quasi-1950s lives with the mod-cons replaced by domestic dinosaurs et al had enough worldwide recognition to make Brian Levant’s 1994 film The Flintstones a financial if not a critical success, with John Goodman and Rick Moranis taking on roles of Fred and Barney respectively, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell playing their wives and featuring a cameo from Elizabeth Taylor as Fred’s snobbish mother-in-law, Pearl Slaghoople. Given the positive box office, it was little surprise that a second film emerged, again directed by Levant. And whilst it seems bizarre that Viva Rock Vegas is a prequel, taking place before either the Flintstones or Rubbles get together and featuring an entirely different cast to the first film, I suspect the reluctance of some or all of the original cast to return forced the studio’s hand.

Viva Rock Vegas begins with the Universal logo replaced by a ‘Univershell’ one (the first of hundreds of ghastly puns) before introducing us to the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), the hapless alien chucked off his spaceship to observe courtship and mating rituals. Gazoo was, from what I can gather, a character introduced late to the cartoon Flintstones who did nothing to stop its slide into cancellation, so why it was thought he would liven up the film is anyone’s guess; but I digress. Gazoo runs into a lovelorn Fred (Mark Addy) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin), and insults and nudges them into asking women out.

Meanwhile, Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston) leaves behind her bourgeois life and imminent betrothal to casino owner Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson) to work in a burger bar with Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski), much to the disapproval of mother Pearl (Joan Collins), although her father Harvey Korman (the original Great Gazoo, fact fans) is too batty to care. As you might suppose, the quartet find themselves on a double date where Betty and Barney discover they have equally irritating laughs, leaving Fred to teach Wilma the joys of bowling (complete with twangy sound effects). Love blossoms but the interference of Pearl, the underhand tactics of Chip – in debt and desperate need of Slaghoople money – and the intervention of a famous singer called Mick Jagged (Cumming again) ensure that the road to happiness is a rocky one (sorry).

Although the first Flintstones was decidedly average, it could at least boast some stars in outrageous garb delivering naff lines, and the novelty of seeing primitive equipment brought to life. Viva Rock Vegas has none of these advantages. The script is just as poor as the first film, but the actors required to speak them seem to have been chosen on the basis that they were the first ones to pick up the phone that day.

Addy sort of looks alright but his impersonation of Fred is horrible (cf. The Time Machine), whilst Baldwin looks the part but has all the comic presence of smallpox – ditto with the square-jawed Thomas Gibson. Jane Krakowski is cute as Betty, but Johnston doesn’t seem comfortable with being the main focus of the film; as she is the main focus of the film, this is a problem.

There are also problems with the prop jokes: a dinosaur roller coaster at the carnival is fair enough, but why is there a woman with a camcorder? Even though it’s made out of rock, there’s no suggestion of how it works and misses the point of the premise entirely. The same goes for the casino, where a bird-operated remote control (fair enough…) switches off CCTV screens (Eh?!?).

And Dino, the pet Fred wins for Wilma at the carnival, is an annoying part-puppet-part-CGI creation designed to generate laughs from children, none of whom will have a clue what the Flintstones are about. Oh, and the Great Gazoo effects are poorly-executed too: Cumming, a talented comic actor, can’t make him any fun, even though he has a laugh with his very broad Mick Jagger impersonation.

‘Jagged’ and Ann-Margret both provide lively renditions of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ reworked to fit the film and these are entertaining, as are a few jokes that escape from the script almost by accident (the guy who constantly threatens to kill all the dinosaurs, for example); but the moments that shine mainly do so because of the acute dullness of every aspect of the rest of the film, a procession of weak performances holding feeble props, powering even feebler puns. I can only hope that talk of a live-action Jetsons movie, originally mooted in 2007 but last slated to appear in 2012, either never turns up, or has some far better ideas than Viva Rock Vegas when it does.

Stepford Wives, The (2004)

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: When power-suited TV executive Joanna Eberhart is fired from her job and suffers a breakdown, husband Walter takes her to the eerily-perfect town of Stepford, Connecticut to recover. In Stepford the wives and partners are happy, docile and obedient to their spouses’ every whim; naturally suspicious, Joanna, with the help of new friends Bobbie and Roger, sets out to discover why.

I cannot claim to have seen it recently, but the original Stepford Wives ranks in my mind alongside other seventies sci-fi fare such as Soylent Green, Coma and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake where everything is not as it seems, leading to a tense, paranoid atmosphere resolved by a shocking (and usually shockingly pessimistic) twist. Though the film may not be remembered as a classic, the idea of the ‘Stepford Wife’ has passed into common parlance for someone who is suspiciously faithful and obedient. Accordingly, when Dreamworks (in conjunction with Paramount) decided to have another go at Ira Levin’s story, a straight thriller was presumably out of the question since the tale of men creating robot wives was so well-known.

What we have instead is a macabre comedy in which Nicole Kidman plays Joanna, sacked after she is shot at by a contestant who was humiliated by his wife on one of Joanna’s reality TV shows. Loving husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) takes her and the children away from the rat race to the picture-postcard town of Stepford, where the houses are automated and all she has to do is relax and play the pretty wifey.

However, whereas most of the other wives (and male partners, this is the 21st Century) are perfectly happy to make love, do the shopping, or discuss inane books under the scrutiny of Glenn Close’s matriarch Claire Wellington, Joanna aligns herself with troublemakers Roger (Roger Bart) and Bobbie (Bette Midler). The three are suspicious of goings-on in Stepford, particularly in the lodge-like Men’s Association building run by Claire’s husband Mike (Christopher Walken), but when the town’s secret is revealed – the women are robots, or at least have robotic implants – only Joanna can do anything about it because Roger and Bobbie have themselves been transformed into model spouses.

On the face of it, it makes sense to come at the Stepford Wives from this angle, and the intention behind the film is clear: now that women are thought of as every bit as capable in the boardroom as men, it is fine to make fun of the chauvinistic attitudes that wanted to keep them in the role of domestic goddess, replacing the sinister tone of the original with jokes. However, Paul Rudnick’s script is a miserable failure at providing laughs – a surprise given that he wrote the excellent Addams Family Values and the respected In and Out.

The essential problem is that the women being robots doesn’t shock anyone, least of all the cast. When one of the husbands places a card into his wife’s mouth and she spews forth money as if she were an ATM, Walter accepts the situation as if it were perfectly normal; surely he should be a little freaked out by it? The attitude appears to be that as long as the CGI guys get a workout whilst bringing the gag to life, everything’s okay (the same goes for a joke where Joanna unknowingly gets hold of another wife’s controller and enlarges her breasts before making her run backwards up the stairs).

Not only do we not get the satisfaction of the secret being slowly revealed, but in Oz’s film the nature of the secret is confused. For the first half of the film the wives appear to be completely robotic (one spins out of control at a dance and sparks fly from her), yet when it’s Joanna’s turn to face the ‘Female Improvement System’, the procedure seems to involve little more than a couple of microchips inserted into the brain – there is a hollow body cast but its purpose is not properly explained. And consider the ATM joke: assuming she doesn’t produce counterfeit money, the wife would have to be filled up with notes at regular intervals! The film fails to follow any proper logic, least of all its own, so comes across as hopelessly confused. The bulk of the humour comes from Roger (little surprise from a gay writer), but even this twist on the original feels misplaced when the innate campness of the wives is underplayed. And the less said about the opening parodies on reality TV the better: let’s just say it’s pointless to make fun of something that is already beyond inane.

Nicole Kidman, as Joanna, is miscast, her breathy, intense delivery totally unsuited to making her both sympathetic and comic (although she would have been too young at the time, someone like Anne Hathaway would have been ideal); Glenn Close has the best part in the film and does well with it, whilst Bette Midler and her klutz of a husband (Jon Lovitz) are merely grateful for the paycheques. Broderick is amiable and appropriately bland: the men of Stepford are not sinister objectifiers of women, but whiny geeks who want to sit around smoking cigars, watching sports and playing Robot Wars (geddit?). If there is any satirical message behind these men who can only properly interact with women if they are part machine, it’s hidden deep behind another confused message, that these boys with toys are fundamentally insecure about the fact that their wives are more successful than they are.

There is little about The Stepford Wives that doesn’t fall flat on its face, since it misses the point of the original entirely in pursuit of gadget-inspired gags (even one of the film’s better jokes about the AOL guy making the wives slow doesn’t work these days), losing far more in suspense and intrigue than it gains in comedy, losing the chilling pessimism of the 1975 film’s conclusion for a sappy piece of comedy-drama, tying itself up in knots about exactly what the wives are meant to be, and bringing unsympathetic and unmotivated performances from most of the cast. It’s worth a watch, perhaps, for Glenn Close and the very pretty realisation of the town of Stepford, but otherwise when the title next appears in the listings magazines, keep your fingers crossed that it’s the original. I know I will be.