Tag Archives: 6/20

Mr and Mrs Smith

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: John and Jane Smith share a house and a five (or six) year marriage, but not the true nature of their day jobs: they are both assassins, for rival agencies. When they are assigned the same hit, their secret lives are uncovered and their marriage becomes a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

There are certain types of film that will always get the benefit of the doubt, round these parts anyway: low-budget projects, movies by new, young filmmakers or those featuring up-and-coming actors, for example. You look over rough edges and the odd naff scene because you can see enthusiasm for the art, a desire to succeed, in every frame.

Mr and Mrs Smith is clearly not one of those films, combining as it does A-list stars, a major studio, a hot director and a high-concept idea. Gorgeous Angelina Jolie, handsome Brad Pitt, The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman and a shedload of guns: It’s sexy, that’s what that is! Like Grosse Pointe Blank but with incredibly beautiful people, like True Lies only they’re both at it! Sexy sexy sexy!

Except it’s not, not at all. And the reason why is that high concept: ‘married assassins oblivious to each others’ jobs’ sounds great as a seven word pitch, but try writing a well-plotted script around it and everything falls apart. The film starts with John and Jane Smith’s marriage in trouble, and as they head out separately for the evening we are meant to be thinking of infidelity; but we already know they are killers, if not from the massive publicity that brought us to the film in the first place, then from the early flashback to Colombia where they initially meet.

Five (or six – and doesn’t that joke get old quickly?) years later, Pitt’s first hit is in an Irish bar. We don’t know why he’s doing it, but he has to kill a man called Lucky, and he does it by charming his way into a poker game with Lucky’s henchmen, one of whom has the most despicable Irish accent you have ever heard. The hit complete, he returns home to Jolie who has just completed a murder in fetish gear. She asks where he’s been and explains he’s been to a Sports bar where he ‘got lucky.’ Ba-dum-tish!

This is the quality of joke throughout. Clearly the film is pitched as an action romp rather than a black comedy, and as such belly laughs are hardly to be expected; but the gags are lame when they come, so Liman relies on Brad Pitt’s fame and rugged charm to impress. It even gets as low as one character sporting a Fight Club T-shirt. See what we’ve done? Knowing, eh?! Oh, fff…for God’s sake, go away.

Laziness seeps out everywhere. Jane Smith says she was an orphan and that the man who gave him away at the wedding was a paid actor. Has her ‘family’ never been referred to or spoken about subsequently, let alone been paid a visit? You can’t imagine the deceit lasting five (or…whatever) days, let alone years. Over-analysis maybe, but symptomatic of a film that is so busy being cool that it completely sacrifices coherence. Lots of gadgetry, loads of busy, buzzy music, but very little sense.

The real problem, however, isn’t sloppiness. Once the Smiths’ secrets are out, their first instincts are to kill each other – well, Jane mostly wants to kill John, cries when she thinks she might have actually done it, then finding she hasn’t, wants to kill him again. On screen this really isn’t much fun, partially because you don’t know who to support (unlike Bourne, one isn’t the hero and the other the villain); but mostly because watching a couple trying to murder one another is rather unsettling.

Even if you enjoy shotguns blasting holes in the walls, and fridges being riddled with machine-gun fire, to the funky accompaniment of Express Yourself, watching a man punching and kicking a woman to pieces is simply unpleasant. It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, it’s just nasty; and the fact that it gets them all revved up for sex is just insulting.

It comes as little surprise that, post sex, the Smiths team up against the world in a fight for survival, and no surprise at all that this fight features gargantuan explosions, car chases and the shooting of dozens of black-clad, armed-but-useless agents. There is next to no explanation of who these agents are, who they work for, or why they need Mr & Mrs S dead. Or why, following the big climactic scene, everything is perfectly safe again.

And then you have Vince Vaughn’s Eddie, one of the few supporting characters with human characteristics, in so much as Vaughn bothers to project them. In Liman’s Swingers, Vaughn was new and his arrogance was fresh and funny, but time and again since he has displayed the antithesis of range, reprising the same “eye for the ladies” shtick in every role and only confirming that sleaze does not become more appealing with age. You could argue that the role of Eddie requires nothing of Vaughn: he delivers that, and less.

Okay, so I didn’t like the film much, but will make one concession: there is decent chemistry between the leads, which for a while, at least, served them well in ‘real’ life, such as theirs was; and if you like pretty people, showy gunplay, stylish violence, technically proficient explosions and the like, you may be able to stare at this film and gawp. Just don’t try to do anything more than rub its shiny surface; you’re likely to put your finger through and discover that, on the inside, it’s completely empty.


Shriek if you know what I did Last Friday the 13th

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: A group of suspiciously familiar-looking students with a secret to hide unwittingly become the targets of a manic masked killer in and around their dysfunctional high school. As a dopey mall cop and a vacuous TV reporter watch proceedings unfold, everyone involved gets a strange feeling that they’ve seen it all before.

‘You can’t stop progress!’ was Bill Heslop’s catchphrase in Muriel’s Wedding, and in many ways this is a good thing: for one, it means I’ve mentioned Muriel’s Wedding, which is a great film; for another, it means that with the march of time and technology the range of films that you can watch without moving a muscle – in near-cinema quality, these days – has expanded exponentially, making the speculative trip to the local video, er, place a thing of the past. As such, opportunities to watch films such as SIYKWIDLFT13, complete with trailers for appallingly cheap sci-fi movies starring Steve Baldwin, have diminished considerably. I may be mad, but I believe this is a shame.

Why all the pre-amble? Well, there’s not an awful lot to say about Shriek if…, other than the fact that it covers nearly identical ground to Scary Movie, and by extension Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, except with a considerably lower budget (the two spoofs came out within similar timescales, and I don’t think this film actively copies the Wayans brothers’ effort in any way).

So, instead of little-known actors such as Anna Faris playing the parts of the high school pupils with a guilty conscience and a masked slasher causing havoc in the background, you have complete unknowns: Harley Cross is Dawson (geddit?), the new guy; Julie Benz is Barbara, the airhead blonde; Simon Rex is Slab, the dumb jock; Danny Strong is Boner, desperate to lose his virginity (thereby roping in American Pie and several old Porky’s jokes at the same time); and Majandra Delfino is Martina, possible love interest for Dawson except for the hurdle that everyone assumes she’s a lesbian (largely on the basis of her unimaginative name).

The ‘stars’ of the show are reporter ex-Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills 90210 starlet Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as crack reporter Hagitha Utslay, and ex-Mr Roseanne Barr Tom Arnold as dopey mall cop Doughy. Although the pair have some involvement in the plot late on, especially Arnold, they form not so much a chorus to the youngsters’ goings on as a pause for breath while the scene changes behind them, complete with gags both related and completely irrelevant to the goings-on elsewhere in the film. Predictably, this lends the film a very sketchy air, and though the whole is tied together by Scream’s plot, these interludes and other fairly unconnected cameos from Coolio as The Administrator Formerly known as Principal (not a bad joke, actually) give a shortish film a fragmented feel.

More than anything, though, the film parody lives or dies on the quality of the material; and Shriek… does contain enough laughs to overcome many of its limitations, not least in the deviant school nurse (Shirley Jones) and one or two of its more inspired, if not exactly up-to-date, parody moments – particularly good is a Grease skit which fails to catch on (‘Of course it looks stupid if you don’t join in’, moans Slab, or words to that effect).

But just when all is going quite well, in particular treading a nice line in not lapsing into the tastelessness of the Wayans brothers’ output, the film gets horribly self-conscious, Martina declaring to the assembled house party that they are in a ‘parody situation’, awkwardly name-checking inspirations such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun! and explaining the formula behind spoof films as the gags take place on-screen. This is in itself a Scream reference, of course, but comedy is never improved by someone trying to explain why something is supposed to be funny. Not that, at this particular point in the film, the jokes are up to much anyway.

This lumpy section apart, Shriek if you know what I did Last Friday the 13th is a harmless enough way to spend an hour and a half. That the Killer’s identity is of no consequence either before or after he’s revealed doesn’t matter much, but it is perhaps a bit disappointing that the younger actors don’t make a greater impression. They are, like the movie as a whole, pretty forgettable, but it’s a lot more appealing than Steve Baldwin doing sci-fi – though perhaps I should reserve judgement until I actually get round to seeing Xchange.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Longtime friends Jules and Mike have an arrangement to marry if they’re still single by the time they turn 28; and when the plan’s ruined by Mike’s engagement to wealthy young Kimmy, Jules realises that she should be the one he’s taking up the aisle. Her initial plans failing to put Mike off, Jules ups the ante by interfering in his career plans – with disastrous results.

To look at Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), you’d imagine she was pretty content with her life. As a New York food critic she strikes fear into chefs, and her editor George (Rupert Everett) is a wonderfully waspish companion. She also has a long-standing agreement with old flame Mike (Dermot Mulroney) that they’ll marry each other if they haven’t found soulmates by the time they’re 28, which doesn’t trouble Jules until Mike calls to say he’s marrying student Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) in four days’ time.

Suddenly realising she’s in love with Mike herself, Jules rushes to Chicago – where Kimmy’s family just happen to own the White Sox – intent on breaking the lovebirds apart. However, the plan backfires when she becomes both Kimmy’s maid of honour and Mike’s best (wo)man, and neither the fiancée’s awful singing, nor her innocent intervention – at Jules’ bidding – in Mike’s work life, nor Jules’ unlikely claim to be wildly in love with George, distract the groom-to-be.

In desperation, and ignoring George’s advice to simply tell Mike how she feels, Jules sends a headhunting email to his employer in the guise of Kimmy’s father. It has the desired effect, to the extent that Mike calls off the wedding; though little of what happens next gives Jules much cause for celebration, optimism, or pride.

It’s easy to deconstruct My Best Friend’s Wedding, an entirely unromantically assembled rom-com which rides on the trains of contemporary weddingy films such as Four…and a Funeral, using the star power of Roberts and the subversive influence of Australian director P.J. Hogan (director, of course, of Muriel’s…) to draw the punters in. But whereas Hugh Grant’s Charles was a sweet bumbler, and Muriel – for all her deceptions – was a complicated, funny and ultimately optimistic character in Collette’s capable hands, Jules is, for want of a better word, a psycho, lying constantly to get her way and refusing to tell the truth until it’s (nearly) too late.

Jules says of herself, ‘I’ve done nothing but underhanded, despicable, not even terribly imaginative things since I got here’, and she gives the viewer absolutely no cause to disagree; so why are we meant to feel anything but disgust for her?

The answer, apparently, is because she’s played by Julia Roberts, which would be fine if the actress were stretched by a witty or blackly comic script; but neither writer Ronald Bass nor Hogan get her to do much bar smile her dazzling smile and look vaguely troubled whilst talking to Paul Giamatti’s inexplicably wise valet. Even Jules’ daily life is annoying, her high-flying, low-stress job allowing her to disappear for days on end without the slightest consequence. There are also at least four instances of Jules or one of her cohorts falling over, a slapstick device which viewers of TV’s Miranda will recognise as a useful alternative to jokes that arise organically out of the plot.

It’s not only Jules who doesn’t satisfy. Mulroney’s a big dumb lump of conflicted emotions, exhibiting little that would logically send either Jules or Kimmy gaga; and Diaz is very pretty but an archetypal spoilt rich girl. Rachel Griffiths and Carrie Preston enjoy larking around as Kimmy’s friends, but they don’t feel like real people, and like the rest of the cast don’t inhabit anything resembling a real world.

Okay, so it’s a film, and in the fantasy of film a bar can be won over by Kimmy’s abysmal karaoke and a whole table, nay restaurant, can be word-perfect performing I Say a Little Prayer*; but My Best Friend’s Wedding skims so relentlessly on the surface of its set-up (aren’t rich people’s nuptials fabulous?) that asking us to do anything so involving as empathise with selfish old Jules feels like a rotten cheek.

Thank the Lord, then, for Rupert Everett. The Englishman takes what could have been a wretched part, the queeny best friend, and brilliantly makes George the movie’s leading man. Whether through acting genius or sheer luck, Everett finds exactly the right camp tone between fantasist fluff and Jules’ selfish strops, playing his part with wit and gay abandon when asked to play her fiancé. The energy dips whenever he’s not on screen – which is quite a lot – but Everett has so much fun with George (at Julia’s expense – watch his busy hands in the taxi!) that he single-handedly makes the movie worth sticking with. Little wonder that when all the mundane wedding business is over and done with, it’s George who proves to be Jules’ knight in shining armour.

Everett isn’t all there is to recommend about My Best Friend’s Wedding, but he’s just about the only thing about it that’s memorable apart from Jules, played with skill by Julia Roberts but memorable for all the wrong reasons. If you’re absolutely desperate for a romantic comedy and this is the only thing to hand, this goes through the motions in mechanical fashion: but in all honesty, why settle for such blandness, such mediocrity, if you can enjoy When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall instead?

NOTES: You’re well served if you like Bacharach and David songs, but Dionne over Aretha? You’ve got to be kidding.

The Time Machine

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Brilliant but scatter-brained physics lecturer Alexander Hartdegen is distraught at the murder of his fiancée and constructs a machine that will take him back in time to prevent Emma’s death. The consequences of his invention go far beyond his imagination as he is flung into the far future and the middle of a war between two alien (to Alex) races: one peaceful, the other brutal and cannabilistic.

I have not read H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine so would not be able to tell you which plot points, characters and so on stem from his work and which are the product of Hollywood screenwriters; however, I can state with some confidence that were the author transported from 19th Century England to the present day and sat in front of Simon Wells’ movie, he would conclude that his great-grandson had made a complete rickets of his story.

Although we are not given an exact date, The Time Machine takes us to early 20th Century New York, where Professor Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) ignores the pleas of his friend David Philby (Mark Addy) to slow down and enjoy life as he skitters through traffic (including early automobiles) to meet his beloved Emma (Sienna Guillory). No sooner has Alex proposed, however, when a man emerges from the bushes to hold them up; in the struggle that follows, the robber fatally shoots Emma.

Jump forward – via caption, at this point – four years and the professor’s a scruffy, deranged scribbler, the despair of David and his motherly housekeeper (Phyllida Law). They believe his work bears all the traces of madness, but behind a curtain is hidden Alex’s great secret: a shiny chrome Time Machine that takes him back to Emma and averts her death, though the respite is temporary. Distraught, Alex jumps into the future, initially finding a beautifully clean New York populated by helpful holograms such as moving library Vox (Orlando Jones), but a short further hop forward reveals the disastrous results of messing about on the moon.

Alex scrambles back into his time machine and, unconscious, races 800,000 years into the future before he is brought round by helpful Eloi teacher Mara (Samantha Mumba), with whom Alex bonds. The peaceful, Polynesian lifestyle of the Eloi on shell-like structures halfway up the cliffs is threatened whenever they tread on land, as a race of violent subterranean creatures called Morlocks hunt them for food under the leadership of Uber-Morlock Jeremy Irons. When Mara is captured, Alex calls upon the miraculously still-working Vox to guide him to the Morlocks’ lair.

Movies featuring time travel are always easy targets for pedants, and to its credit The Time Machine neatly sidesteps most issues of paradox, even with the unintentionally amusing double dispatch of Emma; because Emma’s death instigated the building of the time machine in the first place (ie. if she had not died there would have been no reason to build it), because the machine exists, Emma must be dead. It’s a logic that you could argue with (perhaps he built it later as a hobby?) but does make some sense within the film.

What we don’t get is any explanation whatsoever of how the machine is built, or how it works: it just does, and we have to go along with that. Fine, but it’s difficult to believe in Alex’s amazement at Vox’s technology when he’s built a ruddy time machine!! What we get instead are glib attempts at humour such as Alex receiving correspondence from Einstein and a woman in 2030 looking at the machine and saying ‘Bet that makes a hell of a cappuccino!’ I’m not asking for a load of pseudo-science, but a scene showing some experimentation would have laid the ground more effectively.

There are, however, two real problems with the film: firstly, the story is a mess, completely failing to balance the urban science fiction of the first half with the war between divergent human races in the second. What has been a quietly diverting tale suddenly turns into a third-rate Indiana Jones adventure, and although the Morlock race is effectively brought to the screen they are a confusing bunch of people, capable of throwing darts and making great leaps but easily outpaced by a puny scientist.

Also, while the majority of the Morlocks appear to be incapable of speech, down in the depths the Uber-Morlock is a terrifically-well spoken chap. In its conclusion the film is at its weakest, resorting to a good old-fashioned punch-up to sort the men from the mutants and having the time machine itself act like a nuclear bomb when required – handy that! Such laziness aggravates minor concerns, such as whether fragments of the half-destroyed moon would still be orbiting the earth after 800,000 years or the continued operation of Vox. In addition, neither of the love stories are given time or space to become convincing, Emma barely introduced before she is taken (both times), and Mara’s attraction to Alex reduced to hand-holding.

And this brings me to the second problem. Although the script never helps the actors, in places The Time Machine is horribly miscast; Pearce is perfectly adequate in the dual scientist/action man role, but around him lie a couple of really strange choices. Mark Addy, who rose to fame as a chunky Northerner in The Full Monty, looks and sounds embarrassed to be playing an American scientist; and whilst Samantha Mumba might look the part, her chemistry with Pearce is non-existent. Her talents, such as they are, begin and end with her singing: of course, she would be a complete unknown to anyone from outside the UK and Ireland, and it’s odd that she should be chosen over a more established box-office draw.

As Emma, Sienna Guillory is pretty in a Julia Roberts-lite kind of way, but also fails to generate much heat; in her case, I would say that she is never given the opportunity. And I can barely imagine what Irons must have thought of his role as the horribly-named Uber-Morlock, but his performance in frightful white make-up and wig is his traditional upper-crust English baddie, the voice completely at odds with his appearance. It’s tosh, but Irons’ pounds- per-second of screen-time ratio must be among the best in movie history.

As Wells already had a career in animated film (directing, amongst other films, The Prince of Egypt), it was not complete lunacy to hand him a project with which he could claim unique ties; and The Time Machine always looks like a decent film, several time-lapsed sequences showing the retreat or accelerated progress of time impressing greatly. Unfortunately, when the landscape outside the machine stops evolving and the story has to wind itself up again, the film falls apart. All in all, a sad failure, and no doubt Wells would love to go back and have another go, if only he had the equipment at his disposal.

Phantom of the Opera, The (2004)

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Beautiful dancer Christine Daae is promoted to lead roles at a Paris opera under the tutelage and influence of her ‘angel of music.’ But when he chooses to reveal his love to her, he also reveals himself to be the half-crazed opera ghost living within the bowels of the building, making demands of the opera’s new owners. Christine must choose between her love for childhood sweetheart Raoul and her strange fascination with the Phantom.

There is a moment at the start of Phantom of the Opera when the black-and-white framing scene (in which the opera’s effects are being auctioned off) bursts back in time, bringing the opera house back to vivid, colourful life to the accompaniment of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s famous organ chord introduction. Sadly, it is one of the rare moments of drama in a film that looks the part but fails on all other grounds. I have not seen a stage production of this musical, but this review comes the same week as watching the film version of Mamma Mia! and what that piece may lack in sophistication, it more than makes up for in getting the viewer involved.

Phantom the film suffers because Joel Schumacher fails to get a feel for the mood of the work, and this appears to affect the performance of the actors. The opening is fairly efficient at introducing the protagonists: new opera owners Andre and Firmin (Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds) accompany new patron Raoul (Patrick Wilson) to rehearsals of a noisy opera called Hannibal, in which the temperamental diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is the star. Mme Giry (Miranda Richardson) guides the ballet girls, including her daughter Meg (Jennifer Ellison) and Raoul’s former acquaintance Christine (Emmy Rossum); Mme Giry may know more than she lets on about the ‘Opera Ghost,’ who soon makes his demands known. When Carlotta goes off in a strop, Christine fills in and a star is born.

All well and good – except that these scenes, like the whole film, are played with such an unevenness of tone that you don’t know who or what you should care for. Callow and Hinds go for light comedy, whilst Driver pitches at full-on Italian pantomime; Richardson’s reactions are underplayed, brooding with a thick French accent, but her daughter is quite clearly a Scouser and her friend American. The accents wouldn’t matter so much if the acting was better, but Rossum and Wilson deliver such flimsy, wooden performances it’s a wonder they don’t get carried off with the rest of the scenery.

Things barely improve when the Phantom appears. Gerard Butler is the man in the mask and is a tall, imposing figure; yet – and this may not be his fault – he generates very little chemistry with Rossum, who remains lifeless throughout. What almost certainly is Butler’s fault (I can’t imagine he would have been dubbed by someone else this way) is the Phantom’s singing voice which, whenever asked to go higher than mid-tenor range, turns unpleasantly shouty.

Accordingly, moments which are meant to be musically thrilling become turn-offs. To be fair to the performers, musical highlights are fairly thinly spread – Butler shouts his way through Phantom of the Opera and Music of The Night whilst Rossum does an okay job of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again – and a lot of parts which are presumably meant to sound operatic are a mess of people talking over each other. There are also a lot of typically unmelodic Lloyd-Webber recitatives (if that’s the word), which in other musicals would be leavened by the words of Tim Rice, but here only feature Don Black and Richard Stilgoe’s awkward punning.

To mention a few positives, I should say that the sets and costumes both look gorgeous, as do most of the cast. Also, things do heat up a bit (as they should) towards the climax with Raoul’s pursuit of the Phantom; but even here, the Don Juan opera is pretty terrible, The Point of no Return hardly a hum-a-long – and it is preposterous that removing the Phantom’s mask also removes his hair dye! Schumacher’s film contains a few highlights, but if you are looking for a dramatic and gripping version of Gaston Leroux’s tale which really gets you into the story, for all its technical limitations I would recommend Lon Chaney’s silent Phantom of 1925 over the one cooked up here.

Carry On Dick

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Deciding that something needs to be done about notorious highwayman ‘Big’ Dick Turpin, Sir Roger Daley sends his best Bow Street Runners to apprehend him. When their mission fails, big cheese Captain Fancey is dispatched to sort the matter out; however, his attempts to discover Dick’s identity are scuppered by the strangely unhelpful interventions of the local rector, Reverend Flasher.

Carry On aficionados will tell you that Carry On Dick is really the last hoorah for the team, featuring as it does the final performances from series stalwarts Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw and, missed most of all, Sid James. Whilst it is true that, Charles Hawtrey and Jim Dale apart, the rest of the gang are present and correct, this – the 26th film in the series – goes to show that the best comic actors in the world aren’t up to much if not provided with original material.

Sid James stars as the randy Highwayman, concealing his nefarious activities with a day job as a respectable rector, having fun with comely maid Harriet (Barbara Windsor) whilst dodging the desperate affections of willing organist Miss Hoggett (Hattie Jacques). Harriet doubles as one of ‘Big Dick’s’ accomplices – Peter Butterworth’s Tom is the other – and together they make the lives of the rich miserable, not least the repeatedly-targeted Sir Roger Daley (Bernard Bresslaw, assuming a gruff ‘acting’ voice to no particular purpose).

Daley, hell-bent on stemming the tide of lawlessness, first sends hapless Sergeant Jock Strapp (Jack Douglas) to sort out the problem, but he is easily outwitted; Captain Desmond Fancey (Kenneth Williams) is then put onto the case, but his plan of passing himself off as a robber to gain information constantly backfires, as Turpin/Flasher always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Even when Sir Roger takes personal charge of the case, he is no match for the old codger’s wiles.

And there, I’m afraid, is the key word: ‘old.’ I don’t know what sort of health Sid was in whilst filming Dick, but apart from the climactic chase around the church, his character is relatively static as he cackles his way through the film. In fact, Sid doesn’t have to do much at all except cackle; his trademark pursuit of Babs is already a fait accompli. This means that Kenneth Williams gets to do most of the running, and he is good too, trying out a couple of voices as he ham-fistedly attempts to go undercover in the notorious robber’s inn, The Old Cock*.

Unfortunately, Hattie Jacques is wasted completely, and Joan Sims’ long-in-the-tooth-Madame Desiree (complete with bevy of beauties) is forgotten about as the film winds up, though when she is on-screen her usual shtick – posh outward appearance hiding coarse East End vulgarity – works well enough. She is certainly more entertaining than Jack Douglas in full Alf Ippititimus mode: scarcely amusing in the modern day films, his twitchy, clumsy mannerisms are simply weird when placed in a period context. The rest of the cast also do their usual thing, Kenneth Connor taking a small role as the local constable, giving him the opportunity to say ‘Silly old con…stable!’ (which I quite enjoyed, especially as the line gets half-lost).

Talbot Rothwell’s script (this was his last film too) struggles to achieve any balance between jokes and plot, resulting in numerous scenes which are either one or the other. Good gags are few and far between, consisting of a procession of boob and willy jokes that quickly lose any impact with repetition – the ‘Big Dick’ line is done to death, as is a scene where Hattie has to keep pumping up her organ to keep the congregation going.

Elsewhere, there is an almost inevitable sense of over-familiarity, with old jokes and situations cropping up again, for example the grotesque vision of Sid, this time with Peter Butterworth in tow, in drag, recalling Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (on a side note, the costumes appear to have been recycled from Don’t Lose Your Head too. This doesn’t mean they don’t look okay, as the production values are generally fine; but it adds to the feeling of déjà vu).

Carry On Dick is far from terrible and at 86 minutes won’t keep you too long, however it contains little that is likely to feature in many people’s Best of Carry On comedy moments, with even Babs’ flash of nudity containing an air of jaded sauciness, and several instances of proper (though concealed) swearing replacing innuendo. Last hoorah this may be, but all these last appearances really do is make you nostalgic for Carry Ons where both the cast and the jokes were much, much fresher.

NOTES: This is not just another saucy joke , contrary to expectations, but the genuine name of the inn where the real Turpin was known to stay. I would not, however, recommend typing ‘old cock’ into Google unless you’re prepared for all that entails.


WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: When siblings Ellie and Jimmy encounter a werewolf in Los Angeles and come off second best, they bear their scars in different ways. While student Jimmy finds a use for his new-found strength, Ellie struggles to come to terms with uncommonly powerful urges, all the while trying to maintain normality in her job and her relationship with unreliable boyfriend Jake.

There’s a beast loose in the L.A. hills, and it causes TV producer Ellie (Christina Ricci), travelling with nerdish brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), to hit the car of unfortunate young Becky (Shannon Elizabeth). Jimmy and Ellie try to rescue Becky but the creature drags her away, wounding Ellie and Jimmy in the process. The authorities write the incident off as an attack by a mountain lion, but Jimmy’s not convinced, and his research convinces him that they’ve been attacked by a werewolf.

Further proof comes when marks appear on his hands, and he’s suddenly able to humiliate former bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) in wrestling, in front of Bo’s girlfriend Brooke (Kristina Anapu). Meanwhile, Ellie has issues with her boyfriend, nightclub designer and ladykiller Jake (Joshua Jackson), and work trouble with Scott Baio’s pushy PA Joanie (Judy Greer), so a sudden bloodlust – and the more usual kind of lust – is something she could well do without.

However much she tries to deny the curse, Ellie can’t escape the evidence: but what to do about it? Well, as Portia de Rossi’s solemn psychic tells her, the only cure is to kill the beast; and there seems to be no shortage of candidates as to who it might be – not Chachi, surely?!

Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s Scream – financially, at least – did the horror genre a huge favour. Essentially, it laid the cards on the table, said ‘look, we know we work to a formula, that we use sudden scares, loud music and fake-outs to get reactions; we acknowledge and embrace these conventions, so turn off the VHS, come back to the cinema, sit back and let us scare the living daylights out of you.’ Having come clean, horror films were free to be as generic as they liked, since in the background the filmmakers were winking at the audience to say, ‘yeah, we know.’ With Cursed, Craven and Williamson turn their attention from the slasher genre to the werewolf movie – and pretty much fall flat on their faces.

The reasons for this are numerous. Firstly, it’s an entirely predictable exercise in bringing elements of werewolf lore to Los Angeles (which apparently enjoys a perpetual full moon, though new werewolves are affected by the moon in confusingly variable ways). Even if it is filtered through a post-Scream sensibility, the plot feels lazy, combining Ellie’s confused feelings with Jimmy’s Teenwolf-like adventures as they try to track down the original beast (I won’t reveal what happens here, but a) it doesn’t matter much and b) your first guess will probably be right).

But the main problem is that Cursed simply doesn’t deliver on what it needs to. It’s obvious that the gore has been toned down – not necessarily by Craven, I understand – to cater for a younger audience, which is fine; but it mixes computer-generated monsters (including a nasty version of Jimmy’s faithful dog Zipper) with men in wolf costumes, making neither look very good. Amazingly clever though the technology is, virtual creatures never feel real enough to be scary, and the effects here are not a patch on the transformations Rick Baker produced in the vastly superior An American Werewolf in London. Not once was I remotely grossed out or shocked, and the supposedly comic moments (eg. the beast giving police the finger) also felt misjudged.

Cursed also suggests that lycanthropy has certain fringe benefits for your sex life, but the age rating means that this too is toned down, neither Elizabeth, Mya (as pretty victim #2) nor Ricci giving much in the way of sexual heat or animal passion. Ricci acts gamely but isn’t right for the role, being neither a Rose McGowan-type hussy nor a Neve Campbell-like fighter, her occasionally whiny voice not suited to anger or shouting.

Eisenberg, acting dorky, comes off much better, and it’s fun to see him using the internet in the light of his later role in The Social Network; but he’s given nothing original to do, except perhaps fight off some unwanted attentions from an unexpected party. The rest of the cast are perfectly alright, Jackson appearing suitably ambiguous – is he a concerned partner, a scumbag lothario, or worse? – and it was quite nice to see Scott Baio send himself up. But if Scott Baio’s the highlight of your movie, you know you’re in trouble. Portia de Rossi, by the way, is completely wasted in a role that does nothing but explain the plot.

Ironically, Cursed was apparently cursed with production problems, and it shows. There’s definite mileage in a film called Teenwolves in L.A., either as a full-blooded horror or a knowing comedy: Eisenberg could no doubt handle both, as could both writer and director. However, this mushy, mediocre compromise is unlikely to satisfy anyone’s tastes. Avoid and – if you’re old enough – seek out John Landis’ masterful wolf movie instead.