Tag Archives: Comedy

Get Over It

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Young Berke Landers is distraught when Allison, his girlfriend of sixteen months, dumps him for a handsome former boy-band member. He is determined to win her back but when cast alongside her in the school play finds himself torn between Allison and his friend’s sister Kelly.

Depending on the timing of your visit to WFTB, you may well arrive at this review before I have put up reviews of Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane or The Godfather. All I can offer by way of excuse is that Tommy O’Haver’s work was on TV on a quiet night one Friday and I wrote this before I expunged all memories of the film from my brain.

I would guess that I am not the target audience for Get Over It, a teen comedy dealing with Berke Landers’ (Ben Foster) reaction to being dumped by Allison (Melissa Sagemiller); I would also guess, however, that I am not exactly the target audience for Ten Things I Hate About You and I can still see that the earlier film was far superior to this one. I bring Ten Things up specifically as it uses a very similar device to Get Over It, namely using a Shakespeare play as both part of the story and the basis for the plot.

Here, the play plundered is A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, complete with added songs written by the show’s picky, abusive teacher, Dr Desmond Forrest Oates (Martin Short). Despite clashing with basketball, Berke sees the play as a way of winning Allison back, even though her new beau ‘Striker’ (Shane West, sporting a ghastly, mangled approximation of an English accent) is guaranteed a lead role. He is guided in his quest by Kelly (Kirsten Dunst), a talented songwriter and sister of Berke’s best friend Felix. When Striker reveals his true colours at a party and is caught kissing another girl, Allison asks Berke to give the relationship another go. However, Berke has fallen in love with Kelly and changes the play so that his character, Lysander, stays with Kelly’s Helena.

It’s a cute little story, but doesn’t match up to the comedies it tries to emulate, most obviously Ten Things and American Pie. The problem is that the script is either written by an adolescent or aimed solely with adolescents in mind, so whilst it is clearly obsessed with sex – there’s a humping dog, Berke’s parents present a sex-education show – it is very coy about the act itself, instead making a big play of Berke and Kelly kissing. Are we to assume Berke and Allison never got it on?

Overexcitement about women abounds. Berke goes out on a date with a clumsy student (Kylie Dax, very nice but clearly older than the youngsters), firstly showing her running along the beach in a bikini. She causes chaos in the restaurant, leading to another woman having her top ripped off in a scene familiar to anyone who has watched Class, and causing a boy to shout the immortal words: ‘Tits, wow!’ Say what you like about Citizen Kane, it doesn’t have a line to match that. Elsewhere, a trip to a pretty tame strip club is just an excuse to wheel out Carmen Electra for another undistinguished cameo.

Get Over It doesn’t handle sex or gross-out humour as well as American Pie, Shakespeare as well as Ten Things I Hate About You, or dream sequence/inner thoughts as well as The Simpsons; and therein lies its mediocrity. You can’t blame the cast: Foster’s Burke is sympathetic if inconsistent, half of the time appearing as a Jason Biggs-type loser, the other half a thoughtful smooth-talker around Kelly and a hard man in confrontation with Striker. The other youngsters are fine too, forgiving West’s accent; Dunst and Sagemiller are both appealing and singer Sisqo is passable as another of Berke’s friends. Amongst the adults, Martin Short isn’t half as funny as he thinks he is as the frustrated director; Swoosie Kurtz and Ed Begley Jr are amusing as Berke’s parents, but even their liberal attitude to Berke’s adolescent indiscretions is a one-note joke.

For twelve- to sixteen-year olds, or as light Friday night material, Get Over It unchallengingly passes the time. But don’t expect to see anything that hasn’t been done before, and better, or you’ll be vaguely disappointed. Now, what to review next: Seven Samurai or Deuce Bigelow?

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Stripes

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Frustrated taxi driver John Winger joins the army on a whim, taking bored teacher friend Russell Ziskey along for the ride. The harsh realities of army life bring Winger into conflict with an aggressive drill sergeant; even worse, when assigned to a top-secret European mission, John’s misadventures take him and Russell into the front line of the Cold War.

Three years before Ghostbusters became a worldwide hit, director Ivan Reitman teamed up with Bill Murray and writer/actor Harold Ramis for this military comedy that plays out like a prototypic version of Police Academy. As such, the viewer is presented with the raw recruits hitting the brick wall of authority in the shape of shouty Drill Sgt Hulka (Warren Oates), who is more than prepared to hit them back.  Behind Sgt Hulka, John Larroquette plays the voyeuristic, idiotic Captain Stillman, more concerned with watching the ladies than the progress of his troops.

Stripes is an undisciplined film, roughly put together and taking its laughs as they come – mostly from the culture clash between civilian life and the army, crystallised in the enmity between Hulka and smart-alecky John Winger (Murray). At more than twenty-five years distance, a lot of laughs are of surprise at the nature of the jokes, rather than the jokes themselves.

For instance, the film is unapologetically sexist, squeezing in an incredibly high breast count considering it is not a sex comedy per se. A lot of these breasts appear when the brigade, a motley collection of social rejects, escape for a night on the town and head straight for a topless bar. Murray organises a whip round for fellow recruit Ox (a muted John Candy) to take on a ringful of lady mud wrestlers; Ox wins, after a couple of painful-looking rounds, by dint of removing the wrestlers’ bikini tops – a police raid quickly follows. There’s nothing wrong with nudity in an adult film, in fact it’s appropriate given the trainees are likely to be sex-starved; but it’s not clear why boobs, and the women behind them, are supposed to be funny in and of themselves.

Barely better treated are John and Russell’s love interests, Military Policewomen Sean Young and PJ Soles. It’s no surprise that their characters are written to fancy John and Russell from the off, happily abandoning any sense of duty when the boys get themselves in trouble. It’s not Ramis’ fault, but it is hard to imagine Young becoming instantly smitten with someone who is more Hank (Marvin) than hunk.

Or Soles with Murray’s character, for that matter. John is an asshole, but a charming and persuasive one, and it’s Murray’s casual performance that just about carries the film. Although he is glib, mouthy and disobedient throughout, by happy accident everything he does in his army career turns out for the best. When Hulka is inadvertently blown up and Murray has to pull the recruits through the drill to avoid repeating the whole course, it’s inconceivable that he could possibly whip the recruits into shape; however, the drill is probably the comedy highlight of the whole film, making the scenario much easier to accept.

Training complete, the new soldiers are sent to Europe to protect and show off a new Urban Assault Vehicle. Murray ‘borrows’ the vehicle for some hi-jinks, leading to an incident in Czechoslovakia as Stillman gets the whole party lost in an attempt to get it back. With its comedy Russians and inexpensive-looking action sequences where there is much shooting but nobody gets shot, the final third of the film plays out exactly as you might expect and really marks the film as a time capsule. For a start, the ‘assault vehicle,’ a glorified camper van, looks silly and unthreatening; secondly, the whole political situation will be alien to anybody born after the film was released. When the country that causes so much trouble is not only no longer under Soviet Rule but no longer in existence, you know that a good deal of time has passed.

So would I recommend Stripes? As an insight into the sexual-political attitudes of the time, or a peek at the early careers of some big names in comedy, it is of some interest. For well-written comedy that will still make you laugh today, though, I might steer you away from Bill Murray’s earliest films and towards those of Steve Martin.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Through a calculating catalogue of interventions, inscrutable Michael Rimmer rises from a nobody to the head of a marketing and polling company, attracting the attention of leading politicians as he goes. Gaining a pretty wife and a safe Tory seat, Rimmer continues to climb the greasy pole until he becomes unopposed ruler of the country. Will nobody stop him?

When he walks into the tatty offices of Fairburn marketing agency claiming to work in ‘Coordination’, no-one gives smartly-dressed Michael Rimmer (Peter Cook) a second glance; certainly not Mr Ferret (Arthur Lowe), whose gaze is firmly fixed on secretary Tanya (Valerie Leon). However, once Rimmer has his foot in the door, he starts making huge changes: firstly, out goes Ferret, leaving Rimmer in charge of day-today business such as sexing up a campaign for humble humbugs; next, he sexes up the company’s surveys in the name of publicity, acquiring the talents of rival pollster Peter Niss (Denholm Elliott) and using them to destroy the credibility of Peter’s former employers.

As Michael’s star rises, he comes to the attention of Conservative leader Tom Hutchinson (Ronald Fraser); Michael duly helps to get the Tories elected, partly by sending out signals that the party is anti-immigration (much to the horror of Richard Pearson’s shadow Home Secretary), partly by giving terrible advice to the Labour incumbent at No. 10, Blacket (George A. Cooper). He also manages to acquire his own safe seat and a trophy wife in fallen show-jumper Pat (Vanessa Howard), though – as she is to find out – Rimmer’s ambition is all-consuming, and apparently without morals or limits.

Grrr. I’ve seen The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer twice in fairly short succession, and I have no idea whether I actually like it or not. I should, by rights, love it, since it features a host of the best British comic/satirical faces that the 1970s – or any time period – has to offer. I’ve not even referred to John Cleese’s wonderfully fawning performance as Pumer above, so you can imagine that the cast is pretty stellar: aficionados of British comedy will lap up the brilliance of Lowe and Fraser, while enjoying cameos by Ronnie Corbett, Diana Coupland, Graham Crowden, Frank Thornton and many more.

What’s more, the script, by Cleese, Graham Chapman, Cook and director Kevin Billington, is full of sharp little jokes that get to the heart of the game played by all politicians, ie. break your manifesto promises and ‘blame the last lot’. I particularly like Hutchinson’s line ‘I will act…in matters of principle I’m always acting.’ Much of the material feels remarkably fresh, showing how little politics has moved on in forty years – where West Indians used to be the bogeymen, it’s now East Europeans; summits with the US President are trumpeted to the hilt, however pointless they turn out to be. Plus, in the jaw-droppingly rude advert for Scorpio humbugs, the film absolutely nails the maxim “sex sells”. Satisfyingly – if that’s the word – the scene is clever, funny, quite a turn-on and makes a point.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that Michael Rimmer quite works as a film, especially at this distance of time. Most obviously, there are the 1970s references that you’ll need a history guide to appreciate: Cooper puffs a good pipe as the PM, but the Harold Wilson stuff is pretty meaningless – did he use tarot cards and follow astrology? Was he obsessed with being on television? Does it matter? Then there’s the inevitable crumpet factor deployed in Billington’s entirely un-satirical close-ups – at times the film could almost be Carry On Conniving.

Furthermore, although the film manages to drive a story line through material that could have felt a lot sketchier, the subplots aren’t developed fully: Niss’s play for Pat peters out, Vanessa Howard baring all for no great reward; and Ferret’s humiliations build rather awkwardly to his own pay-off. On which note, while the penultimate idea – granting a referendum on everything, then promising an end to the referenda in exchange for dictatorship – is smart, Michael Rimmer’s parting shot is poorly chosen.

The parallels to the JFK shooting are pretty close to the knuckle; not only that, the scene is without any obvious satirical or comic content – apart from the would-be assassins cancelling each other out – and results in the viewer leaving the film with an oddly numb sensation, not helped by the sinister, abrupt freeze frame (Billington’s direction in general is workmanlike). It’s not as if everything in the main plot sings, either; the assault on Swiss gold via a very British cold makes for a picturesque but unfunny five or six minutes.

Then there’s the issue of the lead turn. I prefer Cook here compared to Bedazzled, but he glides through the film with a single, self-satisfied expression on his face. It’s clearly done for a reason, to show the calculating, emotionless way people can slide their way up the greasy pole, and in a sense it’s right that Rimmer should be something of a blank; but Cook’s one-note performance doesn’t do much for the film as entertainment – we don’t feel connected to him as either hero or villain. Compare Cook to Lowe, or Elliott, or anyone else who injects nuance into his or her performance (or, to put it another way, acts) and you’ll see what I mean.

Most comedies suffer from a paucity of acting and writing talent: Michael Rimmer’s tragedy is that it has too much, and the writers haven’t been able to marshal it all: who in their right minds lets a brilliant Cleese slip quietly out of their movie; a befuddled Corbett; a gorgeous Leon? I’m relieved that the film lacks the scabrous misanthropy of The Magic Christian, disappointed that there are only rare glimpses of Pythonesque glee (the Election night coverage offers rare glimpses), and overall…no, still can’t tell you. If it helps, I picked this up for 99p in a high street store; at that price, it’s worth every penny.

History of the World: Part I

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Think you know your history? Well prepare to think again, as Mel Brooks presents the story of man, from primitive cavemen to the decadence of the French Revolution, in his own inimitable style.

The ascent of man has been chronicled many times and in many ways, but never quite like this. Starting with a wicked spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey, renowned funster Mel Brooks and friends take us through some of the most notable events in history, narrated in stentorian fashion by Orson Welles. The quirky evolution of Sid Caesar’s Stone Age man is followed by a previously unrecorded episode from the life of an accident-prone Moses (Brooks); we arrive next in Roman Times, where stand-up philosopher Comicus (Brooks again) earns Nero’s (Dom DeLuise) displeasure at Caesar’s Palace and flees Rome with pretty Vestal Virgin Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes) and light-footed slave Josephus (Gregory Hines) in tow.

A brief song-and-dance by the Spanish Inquisition brings us to the French Revolution, where randy King Louis XVI (Brooks yet again) frets over the imminent arrival of Mme Defarge’s (the always wonderful Cloris Leachman) rabble, leaving a doppelganger to see to Pamela Stephenson’s Mlle Rimbaud, willing to do anything – that’s anything – to free her imprisoned father (Spike Milligan).

I don’t know whether it’s truer of comedy than any other artistic endeavour, but it’s certainly true that when comedians are hot, they’re hot and when they’re not, they’re pretty lousy. And it’s alarming how cold Mel Brooks is as writer, director and star of History of the World: Part I. The episodic structure suggests a lack of inspiration, though the term ‘episodic’ really does too much justice to some of the ‘episodes’ since only two sections – Roman Times and The French Revolution – have any sort of story or substance at all.

However, the bittiness of the material isn’t nearly as damaging as the fact that so little of it is funny. The 2001 spoof is juvenile but raises a laugh because it’s so unexpected, but most of the rest is a mixture of the puerile and the overfamiliar. The hard work that goes into creating a set and props for the Fifteen Commandments is paid off weakly, while I get the distinct impression that ‘Roman Times’ was inspired by the critical and financial success of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Unfortunately, the inspiration doesn’t make it as far as the writing, with the result that the director, DeLuise, Madeleine Kahn (as Empress Nympho) and so on are forced into slapstick and manic gurning to raise laughs, while Brooks recycles material from Las Vegas cabaret and Carry on Cleo (the Vestal Virgins played by Playboy Bunnies) and still struggles for giggles, hindered as he is by Hines’ unexciting turn (he’s no Cleavon Little) and the overwhelming blandness of Humes’ attractive but boring Miriam.

Airplane!-style literalisms fall flat (‘The streets are crawling with soldiers’), and although I’d never call Brooks racist or homophobic, he panders to lazy stereotypes throughout – he’s never been averse to using dolly birds as set dressing, of course, so it would be redundant to complain about sexism.

The remainder of the film is afflicted with the same issues, exacerbated by a sense that Brooks is raiding his own back catalogue for ideas. I don’t think there’s a direct Python influence in the Spanish Inquisition sketch, but the idea of a soft-shuffling musical number making light of an episode of persecution of Jews might just ring a bell with fans of The Producers, augmented here by nuns paying tribute to Esther Williams. Similarly, the French Revolution brings us Harvey Korman as a constantly mispronounced Count de Monet and Andreas Voutsinas as his ‘saucy’ friend Bearnaise, ripping off Blazing Saddles and The Producers in one fell swoop.

As a result, and because the plot is a fairly lame excuse to engage Stephenson and others in bosom-heaving and bodice-ripping, the attention wanders into spotting familiar British faces and figures: Cleo Rocos, Bella Emberg, Nigel Hawthorne, Andrew Sachs and so on. In fact, the cameos are generally more interesting than the jokes, so you might also spot Hugh Hefner, Jackie Mason, Bea Arthur – and John Hurt as Jesus. To be totally fair, the Last Supper skit is pretty good, but it’s one of very few moments of quality and originality. Brooks’ comedies are often extremely broad and all the better for it; here, however, you’re left wishing you were watching the infinitely more substantial films in which the jokes first appeared.

Like so many things in life, the first thing that came to mind immediately after watching History of the World: Part I was an episode of The Simpsons. I’m thinking of the one in which Bart briefly becomes a comedy sensation with the catchphrase ‘I didn’t do it!’ and ends up repeating his shtick to a jaded and unappreciative audience. I’m afraid Brooks’ shtick comes unshtuck in much the same fashion in this lazy and only fitfully funny compendium. I don’t know if Part II – trailed at the end of this movie – was ever going to be made, but I’m not in the least bit sad that it didn’t come to fruition, even if Jews in Space was to prove prophetic for Mel’s next project.

I Love You, Man*

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: With his wedding to Zooey fast approaching, Peter Klaven confronts the reality that he doesn’t have a close male friend to act as his best man. Acquiring one proves to be fraught with difficulties, until a chance meeting with ‘investor’ Sydney Fife leads to an exciting new world of male bonding. But will the relationship with Zooey survive Peter and Sydney’s powerful bromance?

Los Angeles estate agent Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has plans: if he can convince someone to buy Lou Ferrigno’s house at the right price, he can start buying land towards a development of his own; while on a personal level, Zooey (the charming Rashida Jones) accepts his proposal of marriage, the news leapt upon with glee by her close circle of friends including dippy Hailey (Sarah Burns) and Denise (Jaime Pressley). Peter, however, has no-one to spread the news with but his family, and when he overhears the women fretting that he’ll become a clingy husband without male friends, he decides he must get at least one.

A poker night with Denise’s aggressive husband Barry (Jon Favreau) ends in disaster, as does a ‘man-date’ with Doug (Thomas Lennon), and it looks like Peter’s gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg) will have to do the best man duties. Luckily, Sydney (Jason Segel) turns up at an open house at the Ferrigno place, and Peter is intrigued by the big man’s laid-back, self-pleasing style, not to mention his love of Canadian prog-rock band Rush (no, me neither**); but as the men bond, Sydney’s plain-speaking ways and demands on Peter’s time and wallet start to put a strain on the lovers’ relationship, to the extent that the wedding itself is put in jeopardy.

At a first glance, it’s frankly amazing that I Love You, Man – with its familiar cast, incessantly fruity language and obsession with things sexual – has no connection whatsoever with Judd Apatow. Look again, however, and it’s not so surprising: firstly, there’s no Seth Rogen, Segel taking the slacker role that would surely have been his; secondly, the film often sails so close to The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s winds that Apatow might think he’d already made the film once. I Love You, Man is essentially a variation on the themes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with Rudd taking Steve Carell’s place as the man who never got round to making that ‘special’ friend, displaying a similar verbal awkwardness, the same embarrassment around the poker table and so on. The movie also has strong echoes of Mike Gayle’s book Brand New Friend, although I would imagine purely by coincidence.

These comparisons don’t really get the film reviewed, of course; and the only question that really matters is whether the film works on its own terms. Unfortunately, the answer is a non-committal ‘not really.’ The relationships at the heart of the film are believable and entertaining, Rudd and Jones making a nice couple and Rudd and Segel riffing off each other (musically as well as comically) to good effect. There are also decent contributions made by Lennon, Burns (who has fun during a disastrous double date), J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtin (as Peter’s parents), while Jon Favreau consistently steals scenes with appealingly overbearing boorishness.

On the other hand, the writing rarely rises above the sniggering level of the classroom, the focus of the jokes coming from such lofty topics as farts, vomit, masturbation and oral sex; and while there’s a nice, Egypt-offending joke about Sydney’s dog looking like Anwar Sadat, it’s ruined by the fact that Syd, who we’re presumably meant to like on some level, refuses to clear up the animal’s poo – his other attributes include freeloading and preying on vulnerable divorcees. You could argue that this adds to our own apprehensions towards him, fears compounded when he asks Peter for money, but Sydney’s disruption of Peter’s life never feels as though it could ultimately result in catastrophe. The plot merely hobbles along in a thoroughly predictable fashion towards an equally unsurprising climax, and a contrived, largely undeserved mega-happy ending for all concerned.

I Love You, Man avoids some potential pitfalls quite neatly. For while suggesting that there’s no higher love than that between two men, it – unlike Superbad – also finds time to enjoy relationships between females, as well as heterosexual and homosexual love. Rudd’s affability also helps to offset Segel’s chauvinism, though he’s by no means as obnoxious here as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Rashida Jones is sweet in a part that might have been naggy. But it’s rarely more than lightly amusing and is destined to be swiftly forgotten, by me at any rate.

NOTES: 1I’m glad to review this film because I received a request, back in the day, to do so – though it did take two years to get around to it. The moral? I do requests, but you might have to be patient.

2This is a reflection of my ignorance rather than an observation about the qualities of Rush, who may well be superb. They are almost certainly bigger in North America than they have ever been in Britain.

Bean

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Bumbling gallery caretaker Mr Bean is dispatched to America to oversee the arrival of the priceless ‘Whistler’s Mother’ in Los Angeles. Curator David Langley eagerly awaits the masterpiece and an ultra-sophisticated art expert. What he actually invites into his home is a clumsy oaf who causes havoc wherever he goes, threatening to ruin David’s personal and professional lives.

The board of Britain’s Royal National Gallery can’t wait to fire their worst employee, dozy perpetual latecomer Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson). However, they’ve reckoned without the support of John Mills’ sympathetic chairman, who demands that he’s kept on. The board’s alternative plan is to get rid of Bean by packing him off to America, where the Grierson Art Gallery have just bought Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, or simply “Whistler’s Mother”, from the Musée D’Orsay. As far as Grierson’s highly-strung curator David (Peter MacNicol) is aware, Bean is a visiting doctor who will give a learned presentation about the painting at its official unveiling – that is, until he meets him.

At the gallery, Bean appears more interested in his trousers and taking holiday snaps than in meeting owner George Grierson (Harris Yulin) or any of the art on display, but worse is to come: firstly, Bean causes constant havoc at the Langley family’s home, causing David’s wife Alison (Pamela Reed) to fume, then move out altogether with kids Kevin and Jennifer (Andrew Lawrence and Tricia Vessey); then, mere seconds after the painting arrives in the US, Bean contrives to wipe Mrs Whistler’s face clean off the canvas. Catastrophe looms for David, but he hasn’t accounted for the unconventional Englishman’s lunatic resourcefulness.

Because I’m nice, I’ll start with what’s good about Bean. Err…well, if you like Rowan Atkinson’s physical brand of gormless gurning, there’s plenty of it in the movie. He wreaks endless mayhem in airports, on (incongruous) theme park rides, in the kitchen, the bathroom, the gallery, the hospital (of which more later), pulling the whole gamut of bizarre faces as he goes. The odd, smart Richard Curtis touch occasionally threatens to seep out (the merchandising of Whistler’s mother is abominable, yet believable), but then again so do utterly crass gags (no doubt by Curtis too) – laxatives, Bean suffering suspicious wet trousers which are dried via an unspeakable-looking interaction with a hot-air drier.

Bean is essentially a one-man show that doesn’t readily become a double act; but as far as it goes, the unlikely partnership David and Bean strike up works quite well and MacNicol does as well as can be hoped for in the circumstances – a shower scene raises a decent chuckle. But in general, the film pushes at the limits of what Mr Bean can reasonably do – he’s enough of a fish out of water on his own doorstep, so his transplantation to America seems like an unnecessary step. Moreover, by abandoning his trademark silence to give speeches Bean loses his Unique Selling Point, moving from Tati-like ingenuity to Pee Wee Hermanesque oddity.

However, if the character of Bean feels awkward on the big screen, it’s as nothing compared to the awkwardness of the plot. It’s creaky, contrived and raises a heap of questions: why, in a transaction between French and American museums, is there any need for a British gallery to be involved? Why on Earth would David invite a complete stranger into the family home? Above all, why did anyone think it would be a good idea to tack on a second, high-drama climax of Jennifer falling off a motorbike and Bean being mistaken for another sort of doctor? Bean extracting a bullet from Richard Gant’s bolshy Lt. Brutus is daft enough, but his revival of Jennifer by firstly straddling, then landing on top of her, borders on being tasteless.

I can understand why the scenes were written, to heighten the emotions, to make Bean even more of a hero, and (mostly?) to bump up the running time, but the shift in tone is entirely out of place; and since Jennifer is clearly unscathed in the following scenes, I suspect the whole section was put in as a late, if not after-, thought.

Besides, Bean could have been the best-plotted comedy in the world, could have had music that was sympathetic and apt rather than overbearing, loud and featuring lousy covers of classic pop (Stuck in the Middle With You and Yesterday), and could have used Burt Reynolds brilliantly instead of stuffing him into an utterly pointless cameo as the gallery’s sponsor, General Newman; and I would still have taken against it.

Why? M and bloody Ms. The pervasiveness of the product placement is distracting, from the first appearance of the sweets during Bean’s plane journey to the one that Bean fishes around for when he finds Brutus’ bullet (oh yes, they’re used in the plot too); but the worst offender is the vast mound of sweets that takes pride of place in the Langley home. I can understand why the film would want to send its hero to America, where the largest film market is; but if you’re so desperate to sell ‘candy’, why not just show an advert before the film? (And yes, I know there’s a Mr Bean advert for M&Ms).

Still, at the end of the day I realise that (for whatever reason) there are big fans of Mr Bean out there, and for those fans the product placement and the terrible plot are but minor considerations: Bean contains lots of Bean, and is therefore all gravy. I laughed a couple of times, and felt for little David as he struggled with his monstrous man-child of a house-guest. And at least Mel Smith’s film had a go at telling a story, unlike the entirely execrable Mr Bean’s Holiday.

Carry On England

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: In 1940, Captain Melly is sent to sort out a dysfunctional mixed battery which is in no fit state to be trusted with a real gun. With vocal Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer at his side, he plans to put a stop to the overfriendly relations between male and female personnel. Sergeants (and sweethearts) Willing and Able value the battery’s unique arrangement and come up with a series of sneaky countermeasures.

With the Battle of Britain looming on the horizon, the army needs its men and women to have their minds on the job – the job of defending the country, that is, not the one uppermost in the minds of the male squaddies and females of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) who work, rest and…er, play cheek by jowl in their experimental mixed-sex battery. Captain S. Melly (Kenneth Connor) is dispatched to get the rabble into fighting shape, but he quickly finds out that it’s going to be a very tricky job, because the men and women of the unit are unsurprisingly comfortable with their intimate arrangements.

The ploy of getting Sergeant Major Bloomer (Windsor Davies) to shout them into submission fails, largely because he’s got Private Ffoukes-Sharpe (Joan Sims) chasing him around the place; and Melly’s all-out war on cohabitation faces resistance from all sides, not least Sergeants Willing and Able (Judy Geeson and Patrick Mower), backed up by Bombardier Ready and Private Easy (Jack Douglas and Diana Langton). Events quickly escalate as Melly becomes more power-crazed and puts barbed wire between the barracks, while the lower ranks fight back with underhand – you might say dirty – tactics. Hopefully, the boys and girls will be able to pull together when Goering’s Luftwaffe arrives.

Many Carry On fans cite England as their least favourite film in the series, and it’s not hard to see why. For while it never plumbs the depths of the desperate Emmannuelle, that film at least had the vaguest notion of an edge, of sauce, of parody, however limply delivered. And it had Kenneth Williams. Carry on England is propelled by the combined star power of Kenneth Connor, weedy and blustering, Jack Douglas, twitching manfully away, and Windsor Davies, reprising his shouty role from sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (with little Melvyn Hayes in tow).

There’s also Diana Langton coming on like a cut-price brunette Babs Windsor and Patrick Mower failing to exhibit a shred of comic prowess (he’s since found his niche as a lothario in Emmerdale), together with Joan Sims in a role which doesn’t call for much range and Peter Butterworth in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Judy Geeson doesn’t do an awful lot, but relatively speaking she’s a rare bright spot in a distinctly unimpressive cast list.

However, the real problem with England lies not with the cast but the dreadful script penned by David Pursall and Jack Seddon, which takes a semi-decent idea (the ‘Home Front’ kept Dad’s Army going for ten years, after all) and ruins the whole premise with unrelentingly juvenile jokes. For example, just consider how weak a joke calling your lead character ‘S.Melly’ is – it’s the sort of thing a 10-year-old would raise a weary eyebrow at. Barely more palatable are the weak puns dished out by Peter Jones’ bumptious Brigadier – yes, they’re deliberately poor, but they’re no less dull for being dull on purpose.

And things are no better away from the wordplay, since nearly all the movie’s comedy is based around the humiliations dished out to Melly: getting knocked over, losing his clothes, getting knocked into a bin, using joke soap, getting knocked into something very smelly, having to wear women’s clothes, getting knocked down by the anti-aircraft gun, and so on. There’s some laborious business around the digging of tunnels and two or three minutes of dubious storyline where the previously-useless troops miraculously down four enemy planes, and then a daft Churchill-related joke wraps it all up.

I’m genuinely struggling to think of a line that made me so much as smile, but I suppose ‘How did he get into our army?’ got close-ish. Which is scarcely a glowing recommendation. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s a short scene of toplessness from five ATS women which is neither sexy nor funny, and serves no purpose other than to show how desperate the producers were to offer something for filmgoers hardened up (if you will) by the Confessions Of… movies.

Perhaps the pithiest review of Carry On England is offered by the film’s DVD and video cases. Above the title are smiling caricatures of the stars of Carry On: Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey: in this movie, all you get is a bit of Joan, and she’s not used extensively or particularly well (though that’s not altogether atypical). With such a horrible script, it’s hard to credit that England would have been any good with the whole crew alive and present; but the loss of nearly all the stars certainly plays its part in this film being but a tiny fraction as good as the series in its pomp. One, I’m afraid, for completists, masochists and insomniacs.