Run time: 33 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 28th October 2009
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Ray Cooney, John Luton
Producer: Graham Fowler, James Simpson
Screenwriter: Ray Cooney
Starring: Danny Dyer as John Smith, Sarah Harding as Stephanie Smith, Denise Van Outen as Michelle Smith, Neil Morrissey as Gary Gardner, Kellie Shirley as Susie Browning, Christopher Biggins as Bobby Franklin, Lionel Blair as Cyril, Jeffrey Holland as Dick Holland, Judi Dench as Bag Lady
Also starring: Sir Donald Sinden
British farces work on stage, but usually feel agonisingly stupid on screen. And this is a worst-case scenario, as playwright Cooney adapts his classic 1983 farce without even the slightest adjustment for the cinema. Everything is played as broadly as possible, with luridly coloured sets and actors performing to the top balcony rather than cameras that are right in their faces. So even if it's energetic and sometimes amusingly silly, it's painful to sit through.
Everything centres around John Smith (Dyer), a cheeky cabbie who lives two idyllic lives. He lives with his wife Michelle (Van Outen) in South London and has a second wife Stephanie (Harding) north of the river, juggling them with his shift-work. One day he's injured while rescuing a bag lady (Dench) from two thugs, and he ends up in the hospital. When he doesn't come home on time, Michelle calls the South London police and meets a detective (Cartwright). But Stephanie also calls a cop (Le Prevost), and the two officers are about to rumble John's whole set-up. So he asks his chucklehead neighbour (Morrissey) for help.
As a farce, the story is full of possibility for slapstick hilarity and more telling social comedy. But Cooney never taps into any of this, instead creating a hectic movie that never pauses to catch its breath. Dialog is shouted at full pitch, which bulldozes any potential for clever wit. And most of the actors are goaded into giving smirking performances that make the characters deeply unlikeable. Everyone goes on about what a nice guy John is, but Dyer plays him as a panicky liar who cares about nothing but his own skin. And both Van Outen and Harding over-react so ludicrously to everything that we can't understand how John can bear to be around them.
Side roles are even more thankless. Morrissey's character is a gurning idiot (and the first man to lose his trousers), while the parade of A-list British cameos is jaw-dropping simply because the whole thing is so sloppy. Running gags vanish halfway through the film without a pay-off, set-pieces are so madcap that they make no sense at all, and the characters change personalities from scene to scene. There's also a strange retro attitude in which these working class people are overly formal and disapproving of even the vaguest hint of sexuality. Along the way, you may laugh at something inane, but the real challenge is to sit through it to the end.