Tag Archives: Comedy

Men in Black II

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: A vicious alien, searching for the precious Light of Zartha, takes the form of a model and begins to lay waste to New York’s extra-terrestrial community. It’s down to the Men In Black to stop her, but Agent ‘J’ isn’t equipped to take on the task alone. Unfortunately for J, his legendary ex-colleague ‘K’ isn’t equipped either, since as far as he’s concerned he’s just a scarily efficient postal worker.

The Earth’s in peril again, this time from an alien called Serleena whose glamorous shell (Lara Flynn Boyle, wearing little more than a bra and pants) hides her true snake-like form and ruthless nature. She hooks up with her moronic two-headed cohort Scrad (Johnny Knoxville) and goes in search of the Light of Zartha, a precious entity that may or may not have left the planet twenty-five years previously.

Meanwhile, James Edwards (Will Smith), or simply ‘J’, already has his hands full keeping control of New York’s alien population, and his feelings of loneliness are not helped much by his low-watt partner T, who becomes the latest in a long line of ‘neuralyzed’ rejects. While Frank the talking pug isn’t much of an improvement, he does assist in the investigation of a mysterious killing in a pizza parlour witnessed by pretty waitress Laura (Rosario Dawson).

What J really needs is old friend and partner K (Tommy Lee Jones), since he’s the only man who knows what happened to the Light of Zartha; but he was neuralyzed some time ago and is now living a peaceful existence in the back of beyond as plain old Kevin Brown. J tries to revive K’s memories by showing him the alien life all around him, but before they can use Men In Black’s deneuralyzer to do the job properly, Serleena attacks the building, forcing them to seek help from old friends such as Tony Shalhoub’s Jeebs, the pawn shop owner constantly prone to (literally) losing his head.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that sequels, even really good ones such as Toy Story 2, are prone to repeating the plots of their originals. While there are elements of this in Men In Black II – J re-introducing K to the agency is a mirror image of the first film – it doesn’t feel like a re-run so much as a film consciously constructed around what audiences liked from Men In Black: Jeebs, Frank, the chopsy worms with whom Laura stays, the comically-sized weaponry, Rip Torn’s Z, but not Linda Fiorentino’s L whose absence is explained in a single sentence.

And thankfully, the sequel makes good use of Smith and Jones, even if their roles are reversed: J now the hard-ass expert, still wise-cracking, and K the initiate, still deadpanning magnificently no matter what’s thrown at him. Their chemistry helps us overlook the fact that the ‘Light of Zartha’ is a complete MacGuffin which sends us all around the houses when – if K knows as much as he seems to – most of the action sequences don’t need to happen at all (but where’s the fun in that?).

In this instance, then, familiarity doesn’t breed too much contempt; it’s rather nice to see the characters, creatures and cool gadgets again. However, Men In Black II has a more immediate problem in that its two story strands don’t marry up very well. Because Jones is such good, grumpy fun, the film instinctively wants to concentrate on K and the loss and subsequent retrieval of his memory. Fair enough, but the film only runs at 88 minutes, meaning that Serleena’s invasion, good though Boyle is, is a little overlooked; and J’s love interest, for the second film running, is undercooked. As a result, when the climax comes, it’s really nothing to get very excited about.

Moreover, the film’s individual components are often more miss than hit. For example, some of the CGI (while great for the time, no doubt) now looks fake, over-complicated for its own sake, and poorly integrated with what’s real. Scrad and his ancillary second head are both equally annoying, while I was also non-plussed by Serleena’s other crony, John Alexander’s strange, modular Jarra. And while there are some nice jokes, including a bit of sharp race-related riffing, there are at least as many that don’t hit the mark: Michael Jackson’s naff cameo, the ‘ballchinians’, the Playstation controller that steers the flying vehicle, which not only recycles the first film’s ‘falling about in the car’ gag but also borrows another one from Airplane!. That said, a couple of the novelties did work well: I liked Peter Graves’ introductory (and very cheap) re-enactment of the Zarthons visit to Earth, and the creatures who inhabit a Grand Central Terminal locker and worship K are awfully cute.

Men in Black II is by no means a horrendous failure, but neither is it as much fun as the original Men In Black, and watching it gives me even less hope that the (as yet unseen) third instalment will contain a load of fresh ideas. It’s entirely passable – and if that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, good, because that’s exactly what I meant to do.

Monty Python’s Meaning of Life

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Older but no wiser, the Monty Python gang assemble to mull over the seven ages of man and wonder what life is all about.

If ever a series of films cried out to be described by the word ‘trajectory’, it’s the work of the Pythons. And Now For Something Completely Different saw the boys – plus stalwart Carol Cleveland – naively commit a number of TV sketches to celluloid; in Holy Grail, they learnt about filmcraft and sustaining a joke over feature length; and in Life of Brian, they assembled a near-perfect combination of script, acting and design. Unfortunately, there really was only one way to go from such a high watermark.

But first of all, here’s a brief outline of the film’s contents: Meaning of Life opens with a Terry Gilliam short, The Crimson Permanent Assurance, a (largely Pythonless) tale of oppressed English bankers turned renegade financial pirates, before it begins in earnest with two differing versions of birth – a satire on the impersonal nature of modern hospitals, followed by a scathing attack on Catholic contraceptive policy, leavened by the wonderful show tune ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’.

The film then highlights typically British reactions to school life and sex education before moving on to War, taking a break for a surreal game of ‘Find the Fish’ in the middle of the film. Next up is the disturbing ‘Live Organ Transplants’, leading into ‘The Galaxy Song’ and perhaps the film’s most memorable sketch, Terry Jones’ extraordinarily gross ‘Mr Creosote’. All that remains is Death, the Grim Reaper turning up to spoil a dinner party and escort the disgruntled guests to a gaudy afterlife, where every day is Christmas Day.

The good news is that when inspiration strikes, the Monty Python team can still deliver the goods. ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ is a brilliant take-off of Oliver! which benefits from Michael Palin’s improved acting chops and Terry Jones’ increased experience at directing, while ‘Mr Creosote’ manages to push at the limits of taste and still be extremely funny, thanks largely to John Cleese’s turn as the unflappable waiter (the question ‘Wafer thin mint?’ will haunt dinner tables for decades to come). Eric Idle’s Noel Coward impression is also very funny. The Middle of the Film is a refreshing bit of meaningless foolishness, while Gilliam’s not-so-short short is a nice concept which also foreshadows Brazil; that is, when it’s not sneaking its way into the main feature.

Sadly, that’s about it for the good news. For one thing, the reversion to a sketch format feels like – and is – a real regression, while the script falters whenever it shoehorns in the titular unifying theme, which feels like – and was – an afterthought. For another, the quality of some of the sketches just isn’t up to snuff: for example Palin’s shouty Sergeant Major, the extremely juvenile execution by nearly-nude women, or the meandering contributions by Jones and Idle in the aftermath of Mr Creosote’s demise; and for another thing besides, there are too many musical numbers, as though Idle was desperate to repeat the impact of ‘Always Look on The Bright Side of Life’.

But more than any of this, the major issue with Meaning of Life is that for a comedy movie, it’s pretty bloody gloomy. I like black comedy as much as the next man, but such a bleak, jaded air hangs over many of the sketches that the natural reaction is not to laugh but to despair – ‘Live Organ Transplants’ is one example, the ‘Suicidal Leaves’ animation and what follows afterwards another. That said, I like the ghost cars, and the excruciating climactic cabaret of ‘Christmas in Heaven’ is an over-produced treat.

Other than that, there’s not an awful lot to be said. Each of the troupe have their moments but fail to shine as they did in previous films, apparently muted by not having meatier, longer-lasting characters to develop; and the whole project is dominated by a feeling that it was pushed kicking and screaming into the world, only the promise of a decent payday forcing the Pythons to keep going in the face of mostly mediocre material. The Meaning of Life is the most cinematic Python film by a long chalk; it’s very occasionally brilliant and often quite clever, in a cynical way – the Grand Jury at Cannes liked it well enough in 1983. But it doesn’t half make you yearn for the innocent days of the Fish Slapping Dance.

Role Models

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Colleagues Danny and Wheeler are faced with a terrifying choice when Danny’s poor reaction to his break-up with girlfriend Beth lands them in trouble with the law: go to prison, or complete 150 hours of community service with kids in need of adult friends. The prospect of prison is unthinkable, but when the ‘Bigs’ meet their ‘Littles’, it starts to look like the less scary option.

Energy drink promoters Danny and Wheeler (Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott) may share a stage – Wheeler in a Minotaur outfit – an anti-drugs message and a ridiculous monster truck, but personality-wise they’re chalk and cheese. Wheeler’s a non-stop partying (yes, that’s a euphemism) dude, while Danny’s ten years in the job have turned him into a boring misanthrope. Lawyer girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) can take no more of Danny’s whinging (or his ill-thought-out marriage proposal) and ends the relationship, causing him to wrap the truck around a statue, with Wheeler implicated in the crime.

With Beth’s reluctant assistance, they’re given an option to avoid jail by enrolling on the ‘Sturdy Wings’ programme overseen by eccentric coordinator Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch); the programme involves the adults – ‘bigs’ – spending time with and notionally looking after youngsters – ‘littles’ – and how hard can it be to do that for 150 hours? Well, if the little is like Wheeler’s, a foul-mouthed kid with serious attitude called Ronnie (Bobb’e (?!) J. Thompson), or like Danny’s charge, nebbish live-roleplayer Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the answer is ‘very hard indeed’, though the clueless adults don’t exactly help themselves.

It might be an unimaginative PR trick to summarise any movie as ‘film x’ meets ‘film y’, but it’s practically irresistible to describe Role Models as The 40 Year-Old Virgin meets the American Pie series with a bit of Superbad thrown in. From The 40 Year-Old Virgin, we have Rudd playing downbeat and Lynch abusing her position of authority; from American Pie we have Scott’s slight variation on Stifler and a variation of Stifler’s younger brother in sex-obsessed Ronnie; and from Superbad we have Mintz-Plasse (easily the best thing about that film), Joe Lo Truglio hamming it up and a strange obsession with drawing penises.

Role Models’ four writers present a messy amalgamation of its forebears with results that are mostly predictable: it’s massively sweary, every expletive coming out of Thompson’s mouth making me die a little; it’s ridiculously broad, most notably in supporting characters such as A. D. Miles’ endlessly irritating ‘Big’ Martin and Augie’s dreadful mother and stepfather; and it’s unflinchingly sexist, with a regrettable objectification of women and, unsurprisingly, a few bare breasts. Though Banks plays the part brightly, Beth is particularly poorly served by a script which has her falling in and out of love with Danny for the flimsiest of reasons.

Yet while it always flirts heavily with crassness and unoriginality, Role Models miraculously comes up, for the most part, smelling of roses. The overall story arc is quite sweet – Ronnie teaches Wheeler to take responsibility for his actions, Augie teaches Danny to set his imagination free – and the interactions between the adults and the children feel natural and organic. Thompson manages to insert a sliver of vulnerability into a part that could easily have been repulsive, while Rudd and Scott collectively muster the presence of a leading man and Jane Lynch, in a relatively prominent role, balances deftly on the fringes of improvisation and indiscipline.

The main reason Role Models works, however, is because of Mintz-Plasse; his Augie is painfully shy in the real world, a noble, honest warrior in the role-playing realms of LAIRE*, and the viewer really feels for him as he struggles to woo the fair Esplen (Allie Stamler) and defeat haughty King Argotron (Ken Jeong). Like Danny, we start off laughing at Augie, his friends and his dress-up games; by the end, if we’re not quite slapping on the KISS make-up and charging into battle ourselves, we have warmed to all the lead characters.

It helps that the dialogue is full of sharp little gags: Augie’s speech about Marvin Hamlisch, Wheeler’s ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ confusion, Danny’s sour observations about the ridiculous names given to big cups of coffee, Ronnie consistently calling Danny ‘Ben Affleck’. Sure, these jokes are scattered between repetitive ‘I’m not reacting to that’ face-pulling and puerile, laddish nonsense; but if you ignore the stuff that’s meant to be funny, there’s a pretty funny film here.

Role Models advertises itself as a lewd, crude knockabout comedy for the lads, and in part that’s what you get. However, ultimately people didn’t love The 40 Year-Old Virgin because of its nudity or profanity; they loved it because there was a touching human story at its centre – alright, and some outrageously funny waxing. If Rudd, Scott, Thompson et al can’t quite match up to Steve Carell’s wonderful warmth, they can be thankful that Mintz-Plasse gives the film all the heart – and many of the laughs – it needs.

NOTES: I shared a flat with a live role-player for a while. I wouldn’t seek to generalise, but this particular gentleman’s fanatical devotion to his pastime came at the expense of most other things, specifically personal hygiene.

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.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Uptight marketing executive Neal Page, desperate to fly from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving, is thrown into company with slobbish shower curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith. The flight home curtailed, the two men endure each other’s company as they try to get back to their families by any means they can.

John Hughes, best known as writer of teen-centred movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, here writes and sits in the director’s chair for a film focusing on two very different adults’ efforts to get back to Chicago in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although family is the core theme and motivation behind the story, giving the film something of the feel of updated Frank Capra, it wisely avoids showing too much of the family eagerly awaiting Daddy, concentrating instead on the tribulations of the mismatched travellers.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is essentially a two-hander, pitting Steve Martin’s repressed achiever Neal Page against John Candy’s affable average Joe, Del Griffith. The two are chalk and cheese and most of the comedy comes not from the outlandish situations they find themselves in – though these are plenty funny – but the relationship they develop through the nightmare journey. At times content to rub along together, at others rubbing each other up the wrong way, Martin and Candy are chalk and cheese, and inspired casting. Martin explodes with apoplectic rage when the world doesn’t work exactly as it should; Candy rolls with the punches and, for a very good reason, lets nothing upset him. But more of that later.

From the start, Griffith gets in Page’s way, Del’s trunk causing Neal to lose a taxi to the airport. The flight they both ultimately get is re-routed and circumstances lead to both men staying in the same hotel room overnight. This whole scene sets the film up beautifully, as the pair first display their resentment towards each other, then cosy up unconsciously overnight. The reaction of the men to discovering their intimacy next morning (Martin: ‘Those aren’t PILLOWS!!’) is fondly remembered as a classic scene in film comedy.

The tortuous progress home contains a lot of laughs and not too much contrivance (the swapped credit cards and young burglar spring to mind), but one scene, at the car rental desk, sticks out as out of character with the rest of the film. Martin’s constant swearing when venting his suppressed fury at the desk clerk was something I had not seen before – the film is usually considered suitable for early evening broadcast, with this bit heavily edited – and the joke adds very little, in my opinion. If the rest of the film were like Trainspotting it would be entirely in context, but then it would be an entirely different sort of movie.

Anyway, it’s not all laughs. The tragedy behind Candy’s character is not that he will be late to see his family, but that he does not have a family to see, his beloved wife having passed away eight years previously. Hughes displays his skill as a writer in dropping clues throughout that lead the viewer and Neal to this discovery at about the same time; and it is a testament to John Candy that he conveys and conceals this sadness at the same time as, on the surface, coming across as a good-natured oaf.

It’s a triumph, too, that the story is resolved without dissolving into hopelessly mawkish sentimentality; and whilst schmaltz isn’t entirely avoided (would the Pages really welcome a stranger into their house with open arms?), none of the emotion is forced on the viewer, Martin and Candy showing restraint and honesty which marks them out as not only great comic actors, but good actors full stop. While the film is perfect viewing for ‘The Holidays,’ the two central performances make Planes, Trains and Automobiles a worthwhile experience at any time.

Carry On Emmannuelle

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: Emmannuelle Prevert, wife of the French ambassador to Britain, arrives to be with her husband only to find he is unwilling to make love to her. Luckily, she has willing replacements queuing up to provide satisfaction, and one admirer in particular who will go to any lengths to be with her.

Poor Carry Ons. At one time creators of beloved British comedies, by the late 1970s producer Peter Rogers’ and director Gerald Thomas’ fun-loving franchise had been supplanted, at least in the sauciness stakes, by the bawdy Adventures Of… and Confessions Of… series. Rather than rise above it all, Emmannuelle sees some venerable British actors parody European softcore porn (note the extra, lawyer-neutering ‘n’), dragging the whole Carry On series conclusively into the gutter, ignoring – as everyone should – 1992’s wretched Carry On Columbus.

It is not as if the idea is without potential, but writer Lance Peters has fashioned a script of such witlessness that the combined talents of Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas are powerless to save it. From the start, where our heroine initiates terrified mummy’s boy Theodore Valentine into the mile-high club, raising the nose on Concorde, the whole film feels shoddy and cheap.

Williams has a horrible time as the French Ambassador. The plot requires that he should be unable to make love due to a naked parachuting accident, so instead he spends his time weightlifting. For this he spends an inordinate amount of screen time either naked or semi-naked, and whilst a naked Kenneth Williams was probably never an enthralling sight, and admitting that he looks okay for fifty-plus, it is an indictment of the film’s ghastliness that we should be faced with his bare bum for laughs. Sadly, no effort is made by the script to use his better-known talents and even his best line, ‘I’m completely bent!’ is something of an in-joke.

Suzanne Danielle does a fair job in the title role, displaying perhaps not the facial attractiveness of Sylvia Kristel but comfortable with the nudity asked of her. Unfortunately she is no comedienne, though you would defy anyone to raise many laughs with the role; this Emmannuelle is so nymphomaniacal as to be mentally unhinged, which must have been more funny peculiar than funny ha-ha even in 1978.

Once arrived in London, the film has no idea what to do with Emmannuelle, so sends her around the city pleasuring everyone she meets: the prime minister, a judge, the butler, a football team, the referee, so on and so forth; she is followed by the besotted Theodore (Larry Dann, emerging from small roles in previous films to be utterly boring here) who later ineffectually threatens blackmail. The only point of interest, really, is that he doesn’t have to follow her into a clap clinic.

When Emmannuelle or her husband are not naked, the time is filled by Sims, Douglas, Connor and Peter Butterworth as the Embassy staff, swapping unfunny memories or puerile dialogue (Beryl Reid pops up as Mrs Valentine but says nothing funny); even worse, there are ‘comedy’ appearances by such sitcom stereotypes as a mincing, effeminate poof and two (count ’em!) head-wobbling Indians, one of whom is a doctor who gets Williams naked (again) and solves all his sexual problems by getting the nurse to show off her tits. I would be more measured, but I am imagining the mindset of the writer who considers all that to be film-worthy comedy.

The film concludes with the ambassador announcing to his delighted, pregnant wife that he has swapped her Pill for fertility pills, the plan being that motherhood will make her faithful; cut to the maternity hospital with six babies and a room chock-full of potential fathers, all cheering Emmannuelle along. This just about completes the list: Carry On Emmannuelle is racist, homophobic, insulting to women, and – worst offence of all – never funny. None of the Carry Ons were particularly PC, and some were very patchy, but most were at least occasionally amusing. The bareness of this film in that respect and many others is a very sad send-off.

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.