Tag Archives: Comedy

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: When Elle Woods discovers that her dog Bruiser’s mother is a captive of V.E.R.S.A.C.E. – not the fashion label but an animal research lab – she sacrifices her lucrative lawyer’s job (and puts her dream wedding on hold) to go to Washington, in an attempt to put a halt to animal testing. Initially, Congress is unreceptive to her perky charms, but Ms Woods has a knack of finding useful friends in a crisis.

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is a success story. She’s a popular lawyer with prospects of promotion in a Boston law firm, with a wedding – at Fenway Park, no less – to her beloved Emmett (Luke Wilson) on the cards. However, when she draws up the wedding list there are no guests for her even more beloved Chihuahua Bruiser (Moondoggie(!)); and the results of a private eye’s digging horrify her when she discovers that Bruiser’s mom is owned by a research laboratory, who won’t give her up.

Elle takes up the case but her law firm are less than sympathetic, replacing the promotion with the sack; but ever-resourceful, she calls on a favour with sorority sister, Congresswoman Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), to join her staff in Washington. Elle’s target is no less than to introduce Bruiser’s Bill, legislation that would put a stop to animal testing, but her bubbly, overwhelmingly pink approach to life comes against a brick wall in the form of Rudd’s by-the-book Chief of Staff Grace (Regina King).

Deflated by her lack of progress, Elle is buoyed by the friendship and advice of doorman Sid Post (Bob Newhart), who walks dogs and provides leads (sorry) to influential people in Washington, including Congresswoman Libby Hauser (Dana Ivey), who wears a Delta Nu ring; and Congressman Stanford Marks (Bruce McGill), who owns a rottweiler who prefers the company of male dogs such as Bruiser. With these new friends on board Elle looks set to make progress, but under pressure to make deals (and fighting for her own survival) Victoria withdraws her support, effectively killing the bill at the Committee stage. However, if Elle can get the signatures of 218 members, the bill can be directly heard in Congress; and her Delta Nu connections, plus Paulette’s tonsorial skills, all play their part in rocking the vote.

Legally Blonde – recapped under the opening credits for the memory deficient – was undoubtedly a confection, a spun sugar film with little but the brightness of Reese Witherspoon to give it any weight at all; so it’s a real shame that instead of continuing Elle’s learning process, the sequel has her regressing into her former state of effervescent ignorance to make her way in Washington. This wouldn’t be a problem if she had fun things to do, but by and large Elle’s days in Washington are less than exciting, filled as they are with the tiresome business of Washington politics, snap cups, meetings in hairdressers, chance meetings in the park and so on.

The reason for this is that the story is so weak, promoting a gimmick from the first film (ie. Bruiser) to the driving force behind Elle’s actions. And it just doesn’t work. Not only is Elle sillier (in a negative sense) than she ever was in the first film, but she, her friends, and the people she meets act in bizarre, entirely unbelievable ways to make sure Bruiser’s Bill makes progress: Libby Hauser turns from frumpy matron to giddy schoolgirl at the sight of a ring, while Stanford Marks’ hardline Republican is turned into an emotional wreck by the mere thought of his homosexual dog.

Newhart’s Sid is the cheapest of know-all devices (he’s been doorman/dog walker for thirty years, so is an expert on political manoeuvres and a Deep Throat to boot). And the idea that Elle’s friends Margot and Serena, heading a pack of cheerleading interns, would send Congressmen and Women fighting to sign the petition is simply ludicrous – the scene is toe-curlingly embarrassing. Moreover, when the film limply winds up with Elle’s winsome speech about ‘speaking up’, the animal rights agenda takes a back seat; and despite the accolade from the American Humane Association, what has Legally Blonde 2 actually done for the animal testing debate? Still going on, is it? Thought so. You could argue that the vacuous nature of the movie actually harms the issue (keeping dogs in handbags is good for them?), but Legally Blonde 2 isn’t substantial enough for anyone to take it seriously.

For all that – and the fact that Emmett is as much a non-character as ever, wedding or no wedding – and the fact that Jennifer Coolidge’s return as Paulette is crowd-pleasing nonsense – there are very occasional glimpses of a film which isn‘t terrible. Even if she has become stupid again, Witherspoon invests Elle with her usual likeability, and Newhart is always fabulous (I’ve loved him ever since The Rescuers). Also, Mary Lynn Rajskub wrings every ounce of comedy out of her small role as staffer Reena.

But the highlights (insert your own hairstyling pun here) are all too brief in a film that feels precisely like the rushed cash-in it is. That the original was turned into a musical is a bit surprising; that there’s a straight-to-video extension of the franchise, Legally Blondes, beggars belief. Do yourself a favour and stick to the original – or why not watch something a bit more taxing, like Miss Congeniality?!

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Legally Blonde

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Perky blonde Elle Woods is pretty in pink, and knows everything about fashion; but that’s not enough for her boyfriend Warner who needs a serious partner to go through law school and help him to become a senator. Never one to take things lying down, Elle resolves to take herself, and her Chihuahua Bruiser, to Harvard to study law; but her sunny Beverly Hills ways mean that making friends – within the university, at least – is one of her toughest assignments.

In general, I dislike labelling films as being made for a particular market, since a children’s film can still delight adult audiences if it’s sufficiently well made. In the case of Legally Blonde I will admit defeat however, since Reese Witherspoon’s ‘Malibu Barbie’ come to life, Elle Woods (the creation of writer Amanda Brown) can never have been created with me (ie. a male, over 18) in mind. Nonetheless, the film is thankfully far less of a trial to watch than I might have feared.

Elle is the ‘It’ girl in her Los Angeles sorority house: popular, perky and the unquestioned authority on all things fashion, she also has the love of Warner Huntingdon III (Matthew Davis) and every expectation that he will pop the question before he goes off to Harvard. However, her world comes crashing down when Warner dumps Elle instead of proposing to her, claiming that he needs someone ‘serious’ by his side as he embarks on his campaign to be senator by the age of thirty.

Taking the rejection as an attack on her hair colour, Elle mounts her own campaign (much to the dismay of her fabulous parents) to get into law school, with the intention of proving to Warner that she is a worthy partner. A bikini-based video helps her get into Harvard, but getting there is the least of her troubles; not only does her pink furniture, dog-in-a-bag, and extraordinary fashion sense make her clash instantly with most of the geeky law students, but Warner is engaged to one of them, snotty, sullen brunette Vivian (Selma Blair).

The fact that the professors also think she is out of her depth doesn’t help matters, but Elle receives solace by helping out downtrodden nail technician Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge), and slowly gets up to speed with the law. She begins to think less about Warner, perhaps influenced by mysterious student (or is he?) Emmett (Luke Wilson), and is thrilled when she is chosen – with Warner, Vivian and Emmett – to help Professor Callahan (Victor Garber) defend Ali Larter’s widow from a murder charge; but her optimism is dented when Callahan makes a pass at her. Larter, outraged, puts Elle in charge of the case; but it’s surely unthinkable that such an inexperienced student can win the case when her main area of expertise is haircare.

There’s much to like about Legally Blonde, not least its positive messages that self-improvement shouldn’t necessarily be about getting a man back, and that you can be beautiful, blonde and brilliant. Witherspoon, as always, is great fun as Elle and she is backed up by a generally strong cast, the film bowling along perfectly pleasantly with a teen-friendly soundtrack and a number of amusing moments.

I wouldn’t, however, label anything in the film higher than ‘amusing’ and the lack of a single stand-out joke is disappointing, as it reinforces the predictable nature of the plot – Luke Wilson’s love interest, for example, is so mundane that it’s reduced to a bit-part in the epilogue’s captions. When the film does try to break out of its straitjacket it loses focus, with the ‘bend and snap’ interlude at the Nail Bar feeling like an out-take from Earth Girls are Easy; but I’m sure that none of this will particularly register with girls who are more likely to be interested in Ms Witherspoon’s forty hairstyles than the fact that her appearance at a party in a bunny outfit – whilst the other guests are normally-clothed – appears to be a direct lift from Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Legally Blonde is cute without ever threatening to be clever, and should be thankful that it has the undeniable star power of Reese Witherspoon to lift it out of mediocrity. It’s frothy, colourful fun that should encourage teenagers to believe they can achieve great things whilst still looking hot, but punters looking for an edgier slice of comedy would be well advised to pass over this film and especially its much inferior cash-in sequel for the subversive delights of Witherspoon and friends in Election.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: History repeats itself for precocious youngster Kevin McCallister when his family leave for a Christmas holiday in Florida and he leaves for a solo trip to New York. Kevin finds the place to his liking but in addition to meeting a few new friends, he runs into some old enemies and makes some new ones too.

The sniffiest of film critics could hardly be unaware of Home Alone, if not because it’s the creation of Breakfast Club/Uncle Buck writer John Hughes, then because of young star Macauley Culkin’s Munch-like scream into his bathroom mirror as his Kevin McCallister discovers his family have gone on holiday without him. This time, the huge clan are off to Florida for a Christmas vacation, much to Kevin’s disapproval – he prefers Christmas trees to palm trees – and while they all get to the airport this time, the family’s mad rush to get on the plane, coupled with Kevin’s insistence on changing the batteries on his voice recorder, mean that he follows someone who looks like his father onto a flight to New York whilst everyone else heads South.

For any other ten year-old this would be a catastrophe, but since Kevin is an intuitive genius with an adult’s vocabulary and sensibility, he calmly checks into the Plaza Hotel, under the beady scrutiny of concierge (Tim Curry) and his goofy porter Cedric (Rob Schneider), where he proceeds to watch videos and eat ice cream before taking a trip around the city. However, on a trip to a toy store run by philanthropic Mr Duncan (Eddie Bracken), Kevin runs into his nemeses, incompetent bandits Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern); or should that be Marv and Harry run into their nemesis?

Whatever, the pair hatch a plan to rob the toy store of the hundreds of thousands of dollars destined for a children’s hospital (aah!). Despite Kevin’s fear of the robbers, he’s outwitted them before, and the toy shop isn’t going to be turned over whilst he’s around. Setting up his uncle’s mid-renovation townhouse as a trap, Kevin photographs the pair mid-robbery and lures them into the house, where they endure various extremely painful mishaps. Kevin’s family, meanwhile, have flown to New York from their miserable Floridian break and his mother (Catherine O’Hara) sets off in a desperate search for her son.

Chris Columbus is a past master at this sort of film, and uses Culkin’s talent well to portray a resourceful kid’s combination of joy and trepidation at being alone in the city. And, let’s face it, what’s not to like about New York at Christmas, especially when it has huge toy shops? Furthermore, he creates a playful, almost cartoonish atmosphere in which actors like Curry, Pesci and Stern endure humiliations and violent injuries (bricks to the head and electrocution are the least of it) but can still get up again – the sequence in which Kevin rigs up the house and the robbers get a good quarter-hour of Tom and Jerry-style beating is particularly impressive.

The voice recorder is a nice device to get Kevin out of trouble too, even if moving figures behind a screen is rather over-familiar from the first film. On the downside, Columbus is prone to pouring on the schmaltz, as evidenced by Mr Duncan (in his soppy ‘turtle doves’ speech) and even more by Brenda Fricker’s strange Central Park bird lady. Though initially terrifying, she turns out to be a gentle, lonely old soul who benefits from Kevin’s preternatural wisdom and manages to return some of her own. The exchanges between Fricker and Culkin are pretty tiresome but are presumably meant to help us love Kevin that bit more and provide a break between action sequences; personally, I would gladly have seen five more minutes of the robbers being hit on the head with heavy things.

We can be thankful that O’Hara’s performance accentuates the comedy and is not too saccharine about the love between mothers, sons and the true meaning of Christmas.

Home Alone 2 is at heart a children’s film, and children will enjoy this most, but John Hughes’ skill has always been in crafting family films with something for everyone, even if it is only the joy of the Big Apple twinkling or famous names getting their comeuppance at the hands of a big-eared boy. It’s a light and fluffy confection, although at times it can be a bit sugary for even the most sweet-toothed of moviegoers.

Road Trip

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Hapless Josh’s doubts about his long-distance relationship with girlfriend Tiffany are compounded when a videotape of a night spent with pretty student Beth is accidentally sent Tiffany’s way. Josh hares across country to Austin, Texas with friends E.L., Rubin and Kyle; but the sheer distance they have to cover in three days turns out to be the least of their worries.

Long-term student Barry (Tom Green) has an interesting tale to tell prospective inductees to New York’s Ithaca College. Once upon a time…Barry is room-mates with Josh (Breckin Meyer), a young man struggling to maintain a relationship with childhood sweetheart Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), who’s studying 1,800 miles away in Austin. According to Josh’s brash friend E.L. (Seann William Scott), one or other of them is bound to be unfaithful, and it doesn’t take long for Josh to crack when Beth (Amy Smart) throws herself in his way whilst escaping the clutches of creepy teaching assistant Jacob (Anthony Rapp).

Amy kinkily videos their night – and morning – of passion, but Josh’s post-coital grin is soon wiped from his face when he discovers that his friend Rubin (Paulo Costanzo) has recklessly posted that tape instead of a harmless video message. Josh gathers E.L. and Rubin and leans on car-owning naïf Kyle (D.J. Qualls) to race to Austin to retrieve the tape before Tiffany returns from a relative’s funeral. However, the trip soon goes awry, an ill-advised bridge jump writing off Kyle’s car and forcing E.L. to ‘borrow’ a bus from a school for the blind.

As the boys make their eventful way across country, they encounter a fraternity house full of brothers and are forced to take extreme actions to raise cash. Meanwhile, Amy heads off to find Tiffany and Kyle’s dad (Fred Ward) searches for his son, presumed kidnapped or worse – though when they catch up, Kyle is more of a man than he used to be. And Barry? Well, he holds the fort back at Ithaca, which actually means cultivating his morbid interest in feeding live mice to Rubin’s pet snake. None of which will help Josh if he can’t get to Tiffany’s post in time; not to mention the fact that Jacob’s doing everything he can to get him chucked off his course back at Ithaca.

When American Pie brought the raunchy high school comedy back into fashion, it was inevitable that raunchy college films would follow soon after. Road Trip takes up the baton with Seann William Scott on board and an even more adult sensibility, but fails pretty dismally at everything it tries to do. The main problem is that the lead characters are an unappealing cocktail of blandness and unpleasantness, whether through deficiencies in the script, the actors, or both.

It’s worth taking each in turn: Breckin Meyer’s Josh is a rather runty lead, without charm or humour – yes, Jim Levenstein was a loser, but he was a lovable loser – and someone who has no compunction about cheating on Tiffany (he brags about it until he’s threatened with being found out); Rubin, for all his pot-smoking, is almost completely colourless; E.L. is merely a half-witted version of Stifler, if you can imagine such a thing; while gormless, lanky D.J. Qualls raises half a laugh as Kyle because he looks so wrong – it’s a shame the film looks for cheap laughs by pairing him up with the full-figured, rather lovely and sadly deceased Mia Amber Davis.

As for Tom Green’s Barry (surname Manilow, tee hee), there must be fans of Green’s scuzzy, deliberately dim comedy out there, but his performance here tells you everything you need to know about why he never became a mainstream film star (mind you, it may have more to do with Freddy Got Fingered, which I’ve somehow missed up to now).

Like the cast, the rest of Road Trip is a mixture of the wilfully freakish and terribly bland. Much of the story is dull, Beth and Jacob’s individual contributions doing little except padding out the running time (Fred Ward is also wasted); but these are infinitely preferable to the witless parade of coarse caricatures and interludes forced upon the actors as they limp towards Austin. Aside from Kyle’s encounter with Davis’ Rhonda, Todd Phillips brings out an eccentric, grubby motel manager, an unhygienic café cook and an unpleasant toe-sucker, played by the director himself. There’s also a wince-making visit to a sperm bank, a woman with a vibrator, and a dismal episode with Barry’s priapic grandfather and his talking dog, to go alongside gags at the expense of fat people, short people, the blind and so on.

Naturally, there’s nudity too: some of it is male, but they’re clearly not as much fun as naked women, as shown by entirely gratuitous shower scene which is as unsexy as it is unfunny – at least American Pie’s Nadia could claim a modicum of plot relevance. And the gag about the black frat house? No, really, it’s fine, because whereas the black students look mean and scary, they’re actually pussycats who enjoy a good practical joke about the Klan.

I’ve not seen either of the Hangover movies, and it would be wrong of me to judge them with only posters and other people’s reviews as evidence. On the other hand, nothing about Road Trip makes me think that Phillips’ massively successful recent movies operate on anything but the level of the lowest and blokiest common denominator. This one occasionally forces an appalled guffaw, but more often caused me to either yawn, wince or roll my eyes in despair that it’s quite so nasty and yet so stodgy. It’s not rancid on the level of a Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, though it’s not all that far off. Luckily, none of the writers were on board for the superior, if still distinctly mediocre, Euro Trip.

Carry On Henry

WFTB Score: 9/20

The plot: The tale of two of Henry VIII’s lesser-known wives. French bride Marie’s nightly ritual of eating garlic before bedtime has an adverse effect on the King’s ardour, so the news that she is pregnant seems like a blessing; if she’s been unfaithful, he can dispose of her and chase women such as the bounteous Bettina. The only trouble is, the King of France is keen to reward Henry for his happy marriage – and itching for war at the first sign of any trouble.

Of all the Kings and Queens of England, Henry VIII is among the most colourful, remembered chiefly for his stout frame, red beard and Eight Wives. Eight? Oh yes. For, as Carry On Henry details, the King (Sid James) is most keen never to be without a wife, so as soon as the last one’s dispatched he moves straight on to Marie of France (Joan Sims). Marie is fair of face and figure, but not sweet of breath: she insists on eating garlic every night, putting Henry right off his stroke.

She refuses to stop eating the bulbs, he refuses to consummate the marriage, so each takes matters into their own hands: Henry tries to get the marriage annulled with the help of Chancellor Thomas Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) and Cardinal Wolsey (Terry Scott), while Marie takes a lover in the foppish shape of Sir Roger de Lodgerly (Charles Hawtrey). When Marie falls pregnant, it appears to offer Henry a way out – if Cromwell can torture a confession out of Roger, he’ll be free. However, King Francis of France offers to bless the new arrival with 50,000 gold crowns, an offer too good for Henry to refuse; and when a kidnap plot by Lord Hampton of Wick (Kenneth Connor) and an ever-so-slightly anachronistic Guy Fawkes (Bill Maynard) goes awry, it looks as though he’s stuck with his malodorous missus. But then Henry claps eyes on Bettina (Barbara Windsor), the Earl of Bristol’s daughter – and suddenly the hunt is on again!

The popular wisdom (as I may have said before) about Carry On films is that they start off black and white and twee, get into their swing along with the sixties, and start to decay with the new decade. This is undoubtedly true, but Henry at least represents a brief upswing in an otherwise downwards trend. It’s not that the film relies any less on innuendo than those released immediately before or after it, far from it; however, the ripeness of the subject and the lustiness of the King are a good fit for the Carry On team, whose historical parodies always brought out the best in both scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell and the dependable troupe of actors.

But as I say, the innuendo is there. While Henry still contains a decent smattering of really good lines – I particularly like Henry’s explanation of why he needs France’s money: ‘My mint has a hole in it’ – the clever bits of the script are possibly outweighed by the crass: boob jokes, bum jokes, the Sex Enjoyment Tax and the decidedly off-colour ‘hunting’ of Margaret Nolan’s buxom maid (Guy Fawkes is only roped because his name sounds slightly rude). And whilst the repeated sequences of Hawtrey being stretched on the rack, then put in the Iron Maiden, are paid off with funny physical gags, other repetitions are less welcome; Marie endlessly trots to and from the tower, and to be blunt, the idea of Terry Scott sticking a big scroll up his arse is only vaguely amusing the first time it happens.

Finally, while there are some lovely sparks of invention – the name Roger de Lodgerly is brilliant – the template for the film is ultimately one viewers were already used to: lecherous Sid is knocked out by voluptuous Babs, but his desires are ultimately thwarted.

Apart from the script, the other yardstick I always measure Carry Ons by is the quality of the cast and the uses they’re put to. By this reckoning, Henry does pretty well: Sid, Ken and Charles are really good, Joan (for once!) has a major role worthy of her talents, Babs does what Babs does, and others such as Kenneth Connor and Peter Butterworth, thankfully, have smaller parts*. I get a sense that Terry Scott isn’t greatly loved amongst Carry On fans, but while his big-boned bluster is undoubtedly a riff on Frankie Howerd’s act, I like him, largely (I admit) on the basis of his subsequent work in Danger Mouse. Jacques is inevitably missed, Bresslaw less so, and – because rejoicing in the fact has become a noble WFTB tradition – there’s no Jack Douglas. Hurrah!

I’ve seen the majority of the Carry On films at least once now, and although I wouldn’t describe Carry On Henry as anything more than a middling effort – it’s not up with Cleo, Cowboy, Khyber or (controversially, I know) Teacher – I certainly wouldn’t lump it in with the dreck (Girls, Behind, England, Emmannuelle). Rothwell and the team ride a fine line between sauce and smut, and whenever the film veers towards the latter it’s kept on path by a viable plot and capable performances. Regrettably, it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

NOTES: No sniggering at the back. It is an occupational hazard reviewing Carry On films that anything you say can be…er…taken the wrong way.

The Boat that Rocked

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: Packed off to his godfather to experience a bit of life, callow teenager Carl becomes part of the furniture at Radio Rock, the swingingest ship in British waters. Life on board has its ups and downs – not all of the variety Carl would like – but if the government has its way, the ship’s boisterous roster of DJs are about to be silenced forever.

Being sent off to your godfather’s workplace might sound like purgatory to most young men, but if the godfather is the rather groovy Quentin (Bill Nighy), and the workplace the (in)famous pirate radio ship Radio Rock, there are benefits. Firstly, Carl (Tom Sturridge) gets the chance to put faces to the beloved voices that run the station: ‘Doctor’ Dave (Nick Frost), ‘simple’ Simon (Chris O’Dowd), top dog ‘The Count’ (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and, later, his uber-confident rival Gavin (Rhys Ifans), amongst others.

Secondly, the lure of the station and its wonderful music brings on board a bevy of lovely ladies, not least Quentin’s niece Marianne (Talulah Riley) who immediately takes – and breaks – Carl’s heart, and Elenore (January Jones) who does much the same as Simon’s bride.

Carl also gets wind that someone on board may be his hitherto-unidentified father, but the crew have bigger problems in the shape of utterly square government minister Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his dogged underling Twatt (Jack Davenport); they’re driven by a hatred of Radio Rock and everything it represents, and are determined to take it and its like off the airwaves. Quentin ensures that they won’t go down without a fight, but – one way or another – it seems Radio Rock is going down.

There’s a message that (almost) literally sings out from The Boat that Rocked, one that’s broadcast (to employ the obvious metaphor) loud and clear for all to hear: Richard Curtis really loved Pirate radio. And to give the film its due, the warmth of feeling it displays towards the brief period when rock and pop emanated mainly from these anarchic vessels comes over in spades. The DJs, to a man, have a heart of gold and if they’re a bit loose with each other’s women, hey, it’s the time of Free Love, isn’t it? The records they play provide a perfect soundtrack – however much it’s due to the classic tracks surviving and the naff ones being forgotten, it seems harder to pick a poor 60s record than a great one.

Unfortunately, while Curtis has oodles of love for his subject, what he doesn’t have is even the vaguest story to tell, two overarching tales notwithstanding. The first, the government cracking down on pirate radio, is based in some truth but presented in such cartoonish terms that you feel faintly patronised as an adult viewer. Branagh’s Dormandy is a typical little Hitler (by way of Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring), the uptight upper-class stiff who can’t abide what the youth are doing. He – and Davenport’s oh-so-hysterically named Twatt (why not, the Darling joke worked so well in Blackadder Goes Forth) – are both ‘The Man’, so to speak, but the conflict between the government and the station is mostly indirect, and the antagonists are drawn in such broad strokes that you can’t get angry about them.

Neither do they get any comeuppance to speak of, so the story forgets about them as it drifts towards an anachronistic Titanic parody whose tone is so uncertain that the putative comedy and potential for tragedy cancel each other out. Oh, there’s some wartime stuff chucked in too, as the layabouts dedicated solely to having a good time suddenly adopt salutes and camaraderie and the music comes over all military (the stirring strings of Elgar and the Dambusters march) before Dunkirk is evoked. It’s all a bit of a mess, as well as faintly insulting to people who actually fought in real wars.

The second major thread, Carl’s coming of age and search for a father (figure), is played out in similarly broad fashion. Carl himself is really a nothing character, our mopey means of introduction to the gods of Pirate radio, so you’re never really concerned about his Confessions of…-level scrapes where he’s introduced to a young lady under false pretenses, his disastrous search for a condom, or whether he’ll either lose his cherry or find his father on board. Handled differently, Carl and Marianne’s relationship might have been touching: but she’s so easy, and he’s so wet, that its consummation feels neither here nor there. The film certainly doesn’t earn its kissy-kissy, happy-ever-afters-for everyone ending.

While on the subject, it chimes in with the period to some extent but the portrayal of women in TBTR is pretty horrible, the young ladies all being sex-mad groupies. Mind you, this is hardly new: Curtis is admirably right-on in many respects, but never appears to have overcome his boyish over-excitement about sex and the female form, or his thing about nympho/psycho Americans. Sex magnet Mark’s tableau vivant of nudes is another, rather strange, case in point.

Because neither of these storylines are a) particularly interesting or b) can sustain themselves for long, TBTR fills up its inexcusably protracted running time with sketch material (that is, when we’re not clumsily cutting to the groovy people of Britain, endlessly dancing and reacting to Radio Rock’s every sound). Chief filler is the prelude and aftermath of Simon’s wedding, which goes on for way too long, with little that’s amusing and nothing of any consequence to plot (either of them) or character development. Okay, the Count (defending Simon’s honour) and Gavin ramp up their rivalry, but their underlying respect is never in doubt.

Actually, while I didn’t much care for Evans’ aggressive personality, he and the effectively sincere Seymour Hoffman are two of the brighter spots in the movie (O’Dowd is always personable, of course, and Nighy’s always pretty good value). The action, such as it is, is shot effectively enough as well. But there’s just not enough story, enough drive, enough proper stuff to fill 135 minutes, and plenty of missed opportunities: Emma Thompson is utterly wasted in a three-minute cameo where she nonchalantly solves a mystery we didn’t much care about in the first place. The set-ups, pay-offs and characters all feel like sitcom cast-offs: the wonderful Katherine Parkinson as a lesbian tea-lady, Tom Brooke’s Thick Kevin.

Richard Curtis may think he’s made a film about the best time there’s ever been, a time when a lovable bunch of potent, renegade DJs ruled the airwaves, broadcasting a heady, magical mix of mayhem and music. To be fair, The Boat that Rocked brings a bit of that to life. What it doesn’t do is present a story capable of holding the viewer’s attention for half as long as one of the classic 60s tracks featured in the soundtrack.

Carry On Cruising

WFTB Score: 9/20

The plot: Wellington Crowther, Captain of the SS Happy Wanderer, finds his 10th anniversary cruise disrupted by the arrival of a new First Officer, Doctor, Chef and Steward. The holidaymakers are guaranteed to have a good time; whether the crew will survive the journey is another matter altogether.

The first Carry On in colour, Carry on Cruising is a surprisingly charming affair, largely because it sees Sid James playing against type. Sid is Capt Wellington Crowther, the ex-docker made good dismayed to find himself in charge of a rum bunch of officers new to the Happy Wanderer. Amongst the intake are superior First officer Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks), played unctuously by Kenneth Williams; highly-strung Doctor Binns (Kenneth Connor); and gormless but cocky chef Haines (Lance Percival, something of an acquired taste), who is entirely suited for the job except for the violent seasickness he suffers from and the fact that he can’t cook.

In addition to the inevitable friction that arises between the crew, the film focuses on a small number of the ship’s travellers, namely Esma Cannon’s dotty old Miss Madderley, Ronnie Stevens as a perpetually drunk passenger who stays on board to drink the local booze whenever the ship winds up in port, and most of all blonde single girls Gladys Trimble and Florence Castle (Liz Fraser and Dilys Laye), out for a good time and, in Flo’s case at least, a suitable husband.

You might imagine that the standard Carry On rules apply and Sid will lust after one if not both of the girls; but whilst Flo does briefly imagine herself to be in love with the Captain, Sidney spurns her advances as he is old enough to be her father. If only the same happened in other films! It is left to Connor to do the wooing, and although he is his usual, weedy self, he is not particularly grating as he wears down Flo’s resistance.

Whilst Norman Hudis’ script is undoubtedly hit-and-miss, with the drunk and a colourless gym instructor both falling flat, when it hits the mark it can be very funny (a scene where Sid tries to psychoanalyse Ken but gets the tables turned on him springs to mind); and although there is the odd bit of innuendo and gratuitous undressing – nothing too naughty – it is good to note that both Fraser and Laye are given characters with more to do than look good and simper at the men.

Dilys Laye as the girl ready to fall at any man’s feet – especially after a few drinks – is especially impressive, and it is a shame she only made one more film, Carry On Spying, after this one. I particularly like her asking Crowther about the origin of his name: “Mother frightened by a boot?”

You never get the sense that the Happy Wanderer has really gone anywhere, and in a similar way the film never really goes on much of a journey, except for Dr Binn getting his woman. There is mention of Crowther going for a job on a Transatlantic route, but this doesn’t go far either, the film fizzling out with a 10th anniversary party for the Captain and the whole ship suffering the evils of Haines’ “International” cake. Carry On Cruising is by no means the funniest of the series, but it contains a good quota of laughs and is far from being the worst either. Good fun for those with a spare hour and a half on their hands and looking for a comedy to watch on cruise control.