Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

After Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn returns to the material of l’enfant terrible, Mark Millar with Kingsman: The Secret Service, loosely based on Millar’s comic book The Secret Service.

Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a London kid from the wrong of the tracks who is taken under the wing of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a gentlemen spy for a secret service known as Kingsman who set up shop, literally, on Saville Row. Whilst Eggsy tackles his spy training head on, internet tycoon Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson) is traversing the globe looking for the rich and powerful to join his solution for global warming. Spoilers: he’s up to no good. Can Eggsy and Hart stop him before it’s too late?

Based on a script co-written with his usual collaborator Jane Goodman, Vaughn’s Kingsman is an explosive and blackly humorous response to the po-faced spy thrillers such as the Bourne Trilogy (there is no fourth) and Daniel Craig’s Bond. It’s also spectacularly violent, with a key scene set in a Westboro Baptist type church being the most gloriously vulgar and memorable. Anyone raising an eyebrow at Colin Firth being in an action film will be pleasantly surprised as he fights his way through a scene that feels like both The Raid movies compressed down to five minutes.

Whilst the film never lets up, there are some missteps. Kingsman was clearly filmed in the UK, and its apparent in many a scene that steps foot outside the British Isles. Admittedly not the crime of the century, but it does take you out of the film. There’s also a crude joke towards tot eh end that attempts to heighten and satirize the typical conjugal rights ending to a Bond movie, but instead rewrites Eggsy character unnecessarily.

However, these are minor quibbles in a film that for the most part is a blistering, balls to the wall comic book adaptation.

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

Considering the success of the original Inbetweeners movie, it’s no surprise that the boys from Channel 4 are back for another round of farts, belches, misogyny and fweinds. This time Jay, Neil, Simon and Will step foot on antipodean soil after Jay takes a gap year in Australia. Once there Will meets up with an old sweetheart and does everything in his power to divert their trip in her direction.

Fans of the original show and movie will be quick to discover there’s a lot here that they’ll have seen before. Jay talks about gash, Simon has girlfriend trouble, Will is destructively posh and Neil is edging ever closer to his future as a full time manchild. Whilst this will be fine for most, and to be fair, it is a very funny movie, there’s that niggling doubt that this could have been something more.

When we last saw the boys, they were beginning to shed their adolescent skin and grow as people. They’d even formed stable relationships. The Inbetweeners 2 jettisons most of this character development in favour of more jokes. It’s kind of disheartening, as there was potential for growth. Poo poo jokes are all very well good, but we followed the characters through a resemblance of a story arc.

Like 22 Jump Street earlier this year, everybody on board the good ship Inbetweeners rightly assumed we’d be up for more. Unfortunately, they didn’t know when more of the same should stop.

Ping Pong Summer (2014)

Michael Tully’s comic tale of a young boy with a love for ping pong, reinventing himself during an eventful summer holiday with his family will seem familiar to anyone who’s seen a teen movie. And that’s kind of the point. Tully has written an exuberant love letter to the 80s and all its little nuances. There’s the unobtainable girl, the rich kid brat, the clothes, the music and the lessons learnt. It’s all there, albeit with the sheen scrubbed off to a certain extent. When we first meet our hero, Rad (Marcello Conte) his expert breakdance moves are shown to be expert in his mind only. He’s awkward; his two left feet having gone on holiday and been replaced with someone else’s.

And this is how it goes for the rest of the film. Kids aren’t fashion smart, parents don’t always have a speech planned and your friend isn’t automatically cool because he’s not white. It all works towards creating a world that’s less Ferris Bueller and more in line with the kids who wish they could be Bueller.

Performances are strong with Myles Massey standing out as Rad’s try too hard friend. But don’t let the marketing fool you, whilst she may stand out in the trailers, Susan Sarandon’s part is not much more than an extended cameo.

Where Ping Pong Summer loses steam is through its reliance on non-sequiturs and scatological humour. When certain scenes arise, they often leave you confused rather than making you laugh. That said, as the film progresses, it’s hard not to root for Rad as his ping pong skills are called into question in preparation for the obligatory showdown at the rec centre.

Whilst it won’t be this year’s The Way Way Back, Ping Pong Summer’s rough around the edges approach creates an enjoyable enough reason to reminiscence about those summers you never really had.

Run for Your Wife (2013)

It’s fair to say that Danny Dyer plays to type. The great mockney of all mockneys is not known for his chameleonic performances; he’s never going to be mistaken for the Lon Chaney of his generation. We are never going to hear the words ‘And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to… Danny Dyer for his performance in Wat Choo Looking at Bruv.’

So, when he took on the lead in the big screen adaptation of Ray Cooney’s bawdy farce, Run for Your Wife, we all crinkled our brows and went ‘derp?’ After all, based on previous performances, Dyer is to comedy, what Liam Gallagher is to wit and reasoned debate. Isn’t that right, our kid?

And it looks like our chin stroking and feverish worries were justified. Like Big Ben chiming on New Year, Dyer hasn’t let us down. He is dreadful. But that’s like swimming in the sewers and worrying about the turds that surround you, when one has dropped into your mouth. Run for Your Wife just doesn’t work artistically, amusingly or even ironically.

Directed by Cooney himself, the film sees Dyer as a Landahn cabbie, who manages to hold down two marriages through meticulous planning and talking through his arse. Wife one (Denise Van Outen) believes he does night shifts, whilst wifey number two (Sarah Harding) believes he works during the day. Which, just to digress for a second, doesn’t make a blind lick of sense. Anyway, helping out a bag lady being mugged (Judi Dench says ‘fuck’. Chortle.), Dyer is knocked out and spends the night in hospital. With his schedule out of whack, he runs around trying to stop everyone from his wives to the police from finding out about his bigamy. All whilst being helped by his dopey neighbour played by Neil Morrissey (if only The Vanishing Man had caught on, eh Neil?).

It is fair and justifiable to say that the plot to Run For Your Wife is absolute balderdash, with jokes set up in a manner we haven’t seen since A Few Best Men. When Morrissey is given custody of a chocolate cake and told to look after it, you sit there like prisoner of war waiting for the depressing inevitability of it all.

Run for Your Wife harks back to a particular age of cinema. An age that saw the Carry On movies in their last death rattles, big screen adaptations of TV programmes usually going to the Costa Del Sol, and sitcoms dressing racism up as the loony left getting their knickers in a twist. In Run For Your Wife, Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair play a pair of mincing queens, one of whom wears women’s clothing. This is the kind of knuckle dragging stereotyping we thought couldn’t be topped by Shame’s ‘gay people are a bit seedy aren’t they?’ ending. But it gets worse.

The final act of the film sees everyone running around with their pants around their ankles and being accused of being gay or a transsexual. And we really want to focus on that verb, accused. The number of times Dyer and his motley crew puff out their chests and go on about how they lurve the birds, is frankly embarrassing. You could argue that you’re supposed to laugh at their protestations, but we’re pretty sure that’s a weak argument. The joke seems to be: pretending to be gay equals hilarious. Actually being gay? Urgh!

Presumably in an attempt to lend the film some credibility, the whole sorry affair has been swaddled in numerous cameos from the Ghost of Light Entertainment. There’s a reason why the night sky was dark whilst filming this. All the stars were here. Russ Abbott, Bernard Cribbins and, in hindsight, an ill-judged Rolf Harris are just some of the faces cropping up to persuade you that you’re watching comedy gold. When Andrew Sachs, dressed as a moustached waiter, pratfalls his way into the lap of Anthony Head, you don’t laugh. You just wish you were watching Fawlty Towers.

Slow, idiotic, offensive and downright insulting to logic, Run for Your Wife is this year’s The Room… But without any of the fun.

The Heat (2013)

A recent article in The New Statesman looked at the idea of the ‘strong woman’ in the media. A woman, the author Sophia McDougall argued, is just as flawed as a man. There are a million, needle sized pieces that make up the complete picture of womanhood. Just having a ‘strong woman’ in your cast is not enough. Yes, have a strong woman in your line up, but don’t let the Black Widow be the ONLY example of womanhood. What about women who ‘sometimes put up with other’s shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative’? Could The Heat be the film that answers that call?

Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and written by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation), The Heat is an action comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Bullock is Sarah, a bookish, straight edge FBI agent who is ridiculously successful in her job but not so in her social life. McCarthy is Shannon, a hard as nails, Boston detective with very little time or patience for anything outside of her job and her jailbird brother. Both are held at arm’s length by their male counterparts, less because of their sex but because of their grating personalities.

Like Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz – a film which we were reminded of a lot during The Heat – Sarah’s brilliant detective skills, the arrogance that comes with them and her stringent following of ‘the book’ have made her blind to the fact that she is not liked in her department. Meanwhile, Shannon has made such a name for herself as a Dirty Harry-esque, shit-kicker that her department fear her more than respect her. We’re not fully entering the arena of the nuanced, but like Bridesmaids we’re not just dealing with women standing on the sidelines collectively rolling their eyes at the antics of Seth Rogan and his cult of man-child. Neither are we dealing with the Katherine Heigl school of ‘I just want a man to wuv me’. In fact, it’s to The Heat’s credit that any romance in the film is confined to about 5% of the story.

Like most mis-matched partner capers (48 Hours, the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, Another 48 Hours, Turner and Hooch, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), The Heat brings our two protagonists together to uphold a common good. In this case, bringing down a drug cartel. Sarah wants to approach the situation with almost Sherlock Holmes precision, whilst Shannon is happiest threatening to blow off people’s balls. If you’ve seen any comedy action films, you’ll be in familiar territory. Dippold’s script is more content with making you laugh than it is breaking any moulds. And on that front, it certainly delivers. Even if it does often stray too far down the path of ‘Imma gonna adlib here for about 15 minutes and it is going to be funny. Oooo, he he. I said a swear.’

McCarthy can play these kind of characters in her sleep, and it’s great to see her toy with a script that at least has a dab more intelligence than the shit bath that was Identity Thief. Bullock, meanwhile, has never been the strongest comic actor but is a perfect foil to McCarthy’s brand of potty mouth humour.

Does it answer McDougall’s prayers? Maybe not. But then we’re not sure the film even has an agenda. And whilst The Heat may not be the strongest contender for comedy of the year, in a year that gave us the spirit crushing Hangover Part III, we’re happy to see that there are people at least trying to be heard over the farting and belching of Frat Pack comedy.

100 Bloody Acres (2013)

All things agricultural take on a murderous tint in this new Australian horror comedy from Colin and Cameron Cairnes. Damon Herriman (Justified) and Angus Sampson (Insidious) play Reg and Lindsay Morgan; a couple of brothers who run and operate a blood and bone fertilizer company in the country. When a trio of twenty-somethings are stranded by the side of the road on their way to festival, they seem to be in luck when Reg offers them a lift in his truck. Unfortunately, a bumpy journey leads to the discovery of the horrific secret behind the Morgan’s prize winning fertilizer and fight for the trio’s lives.

Reminiscent of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, 100 Bloody Acres’ humour comes from the scripts fondness to charge head first at the tropes of horror, cracking them and letting the reality of the situation bleed in. Case in point, the aftermath of a horrific act of violence is followed by the earnest query, ‘You alright there mate?’, whilst the story’s ‘surviving virgin’ isn’t completely everything they’re cracked up to be. Sampson and Herriman are a joy to watch as the murderous Morgans – Sampson’s monotone Lindsay taking the nervous Reg under his wing and almost squeezing the life out of him.

Originally written as a straight out horror, the arrival of Wolf Creek made the Cairnes rethink their initial script and we should be thankful. For what could have been another generic, by the numbers, redneck slasher has blossomed into an outstanding prime cut of independent comedy horror. Something akin to a children’s entertainer with an axe behind his back.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

2010’s Despicable Me was a bit of a sleeper hit. Going toe to toe with Megamind – the other evil genius cartoon that shot itself in the foot with its numerous trailers spoiling its one and only twist – it invariably won audiences over with its gentle humour, its Looney Toons-esque plot, and lots and lots of those little yellow nuggets we now know as Minions. With so much going for it, the arrival of a sequel should only have come as a surprise to rocks and even then, really dumb rocks.

Former evil genius Gru (Steve Carrell) has officially hung up his plans for world domination and is focussing all his energy into raising his three adopted daughters and producing a range of mouth-watering jams. Left in the lurch by his lab partner Dr Nefario (Russell Brand), who wants more evil out of life, Gru finds himself pining for a bit of a break from parenthood. Enter secret agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), who enlists Gru’s help in tracking down a stolen mutating chemical compound.

Despicable Me 2, like most sequels, cranks everything up to 11. However, unlike most sequels, it manages to hit every target it aims for. We very rarely use the term perfect, but the only issue we really had came in the form of a neutered performance by  Kim Jeong as the diminutive wig guru, Floyd Eagle-san. Speaking of Jeong, Despicable Me 2 manages to show the excruciating Hangover Part III how you beef up your franchise’s minor characters without crushing the life out the film like a python.

A large part of the film sees the Minions pushed to the front in a plot concerning their kidnapping, and the film’s success is largely down to this. Never managing to outstay their welcome, like a certain man-child, they bring the biggest laughs and the greatest joy of the film. Whether this will translate to the upcoming Minions movie remains to be seen, but for now let’s not worry. Despicable Me 2 is a wonderful, anarchic, slab of joy.

Identity Thief (2013)

Craig Mazin’s co-writer credits include The Hangover Parts II and III, and Scary Movie 4 and 5. With this knowledge, a sense of foreboding is completely justified going into Identify Thief; a road movie starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman and written solely by Mazin. Bateman plays buttoned down accountant Sandy Patterson, who becomes a victim of McCarthy’s con artist, Diana. After she has a wild weekend on his credit card details, Bateman finds himself under suspicion for drug smuggling and assault. To clear his name he hits the road to track down McCarthy and get her to own up to her misdemeanours.

Let’s start off saying this. It’s a good thing that Arrested Development season 4 has finally come to fruition, because at least for now, there’s no danger of Identity Thief 2 ever arising. You know how the best bits are usually in a trailer? This is equally true of Identity Thief. And those bits are all in the first act. In hindsight, there’s a reason why they didn’t take anything from the rest of the film.

Identity Thief is another one of those comedies that have been coming out over the last 12 months where apparently a run time of just less than two hours is okay. Apatow we are looking at you! This is your fault. Maybe a two hour comedy can be justified if it’s consistently funny, but Identify Thief is not that film. It produced, at best, two gut laughs and both of those were clearly adlibs, so you can’t even praise the script for them. We know Bateman and McCarthy are capable of much better but the material lets them down. Identify Thief seems to try and get a lot of mileage out of using a loud scream as a setup, joke and punchline. Anyone who has seen Tom Green’s slacker comedy, Freddy Got Fingered, knows that this isn’t a solid foundation for comedy. This kind of loudness is only reserved for children’s Saturday morning cartoons and riots.

The film does take time out to add a bit of heart amongst the vomiting and vagina jokes. However, like the aforementioned screaming, it happens so often that it just grates. A ‘jokey’ sex scene is bookended with both characters crying about what they want from life. It’s just uncomfortable. You’d have to be watching another film entirely not to realise within the first five minutes of meeting McCarthy that her Diana is just a misunderstood loner. But by Christ, the film is going to make sure you really get it with numerous scenes of her looking off camera or gazing at her navel, reminiscing about some deprived childhood.

Adding insult to injury is not just the B-Plot (gangsters are after Diana) or the C-plot (a bounty hunter is after her as well) or the D-plot (get revenge on mean boss), but the other sub-plots that pop up like whack a mole. There is no restraint. The film flails around wildly like a child given control of a golf cart. How this got past the editors unscathed is beyond us.

With an internal logic that makes no sense (the police know he’s a victim of identity theft, but come back to arrest him on charges they’ve just proven he couldn’t have done), a ridiculous running time and a script that is the equivalent of a fart in a jar, Identify Thief may well be one of the worse comedies this year.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)

When we reviewed The Rum Diaries back in oh so bleeding long ago, one our main complaints was that Bruce Robinson’s screenplay just didn’t capture the feel of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing. Well, there seems to be some sort of universal balance at play as Chris Hopewell and Crispian Mills’ A Fantastic Fear of Everything tries to ape Robinson’s own work with about the same amount of success.

Simon Pegg plays Jack, a children’s author trying to branch out and write the next big murder mystery. Unfortunately, as a result of his intense research into the dark underbelly of London, Jack has developed Scelerophobia, a fear of being murdered or attacked. With phone calls from his publisher misinterpreted as threats upon his person, he has begun a battle against a window that won’t stay shut and refuses to leave his flat for fear of being murdered. His life now consisting of trying to write his novel in between checking the perimeter of his living room every five minutes, ever fearful that the non-descript attacker in his woolly head will become flesh. Soon, the unimaginable happens, Pegg finds himself bereft of clean underwear and with a realisation that he has to man up and go to the launderette; a place he’s had a fear of since he was a child.

That really is the plot.

With his trademarked high pitched squeaking, shouting and flip-flopping between anger and despair, there’s enough in the first 15 minutes of Everything to keep Pegg fans happy. It’s just after those 15 minutes, the film really starts to struggle. As Jack potters about in his grubby underwear like a male Miss Havisham – refusing to see friend, lover or anyone he may have to interact with – there isn’t very much for Pegg to do except mumble and throw himself into closed doors. 2009’s Bunny and The Bull has a similarly troubled hero who refuses to leave his abode and yet the secret to what made him this way is part of the plot and joy of the film. With Everything, we’re told up front what Pegg’s problem is. Yes, there are flashbacks to a life before his self-imposed house arrest and a suggestion that something else is at fault, but they don’t really add anything accept an excuse for an emancipated Pegg to shout Cu… Well, a swearword. That’s all you need to know.

The reason why we mentioned the scribbler of Withnail and I earlier is that this is loosely based on his novella, Paranoia in a Launderette. It also appears to be loosely based on Robinson’s unique rhythm and style, as Pegg’s narration fluctuates between McGann’s over thinking calm and Grant’s grating anger. Indeed, when Pegg finally does reach the Launderette, his impression of Withnail just needs a scarf from the clan of McFuck to seal the deal.

Ah, yes, the launderette scene. What in essence could be a short film, it raises many a titter as Pegg fights valiantly with the buildings inanimate washing machines and the inanimate features of its patrons. It’s genuinely entertaining and the best part of the film. It’s a shame it’s book-ended by an opening and closing of lacklustre plotting. When we get into the third act, our dual directors throw everything at the screen – slo-mo camera angles, jaunty pop songs and even stop motion animation – to try and help the film limp its way to the finishing line. With an ill-advised love story and a twist crowbarred in for no good reason but to give the film some tension, when the credits roll, you’ll wonder what better way you could have spent your time.

It’s great to see that Simon Pegg doing independent movies, but this really isn’t the vehicle for him. This self described ‘semi-comedy’ is just not interesting enough to return to. A curiosity at best, you’re wise to avoid this and run with Bunny and the Bull.

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Looking through the murky depths of Adam Sandler’s filmography, it’s surprising to see that Hotel Transylvania, his billionth movie, is only his second family film after Eight Crazy Nights. However, this only comes in second to the surprise that it’s co-written by Peter Baynham, who brought us  such kiddie friendly fare such as Arthur Christmas, Brass Eye and I’m Alan Partridge.

Contrary to popular belief, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is not the Bela Lugosi-shaped blood sucker we all know him to be. Rather than feasting on the blood of virgins and harassing the wives of estate agents, he’s actually a docile single father trying to balance the pressures of running a hotel for his fellow denizens of the night, with trying to protect his 118 year old daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), from the horrors of the outside world. If there’s one thing that truly horrifies him, it’s the thought of a human encroaching on his domain, and would you Adam and Eve it? Here comes a big box of trouble in the shape of clueless backpacker, Jonathan (Andy Samberg). What’s a Transylvanian nobleman to do!

Hotel Transylvania is unashamedly a kid’s movie, which is both complementary and damning. We know we laughed just as much as the munchkins in the audience with us, but coming out we struggled to remember any actual ‘jokes’. The zaniness of Samberg’s performance is counteracted by Gomez, whose years on the Disney channel have really helped her fine tune the art of blandness. And so it goes on.

Maybe the issue is with us, the thought of Genndy Tartakovsky directing Hotel Transylvania made us a bit giddy. With a pedigree that includes Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and 2 Stupid Dogs, we really wanted him to pull something special out of the bag. Unfortunately, the script by Robert Smigel and the aforementioned Baynham has very little in the way of originality; feeling like a mixture of Monsters Inc and Rent-a-Ghost with an ending that can be used by Ground Technicians to land planes. It all feels a bit, well, toothless.

This all makes it sound like Hotel Transylvania is a mediocre film, which is far from the truth. The problem seems to be that on the one hand, we have a film that celebrates the art of the fart joke with a plot that’s plotted simply enough for the ankle-biters to follow. However, on the other hand, we have a weakly plotted film with a penchant for breaking wind. Which side of the age of 10 you land on will probably determine how you feel after those 90 minutes are over.