Tuesday 5 May 2009

A Bunch Of Amateurs

Alright, it can't all be high culture here you know. Sometimes you need to turn on, tune in and switch off. Unfortunately that sometimes means that you find yourself wanting to do that last part before the film even ends. A Bunch Of Amateurs has a ludicrous premise which is simple enough: an ageing film star whose career is on the skids, an amateur dramatics group whose theatre faces closure and a desperate agent who senses an opportunity. It's a good idea which should provide fertile ground for some laughs. No, really, it should.

Burt Reynolds plays Jefferson Steele, the star past his prime, a piece of casting which is almost too close to the bone. There's something about his face which is just plain disconcerting. It doesn't move properly. It's a bit like watching an animatronic model of Burt Reynolds, and the operator is still getting the hang of things. And he seems to have trouble walking (and I mean him rather than the character). All of this is fine for the early scenes in the film where he labours under the impression that he is in the UK to play Lear for the RSC in Stratford, rather than the Stratford Players in Stratford St. John, Suffolk, and also leads to one of the better lines in the film where it is mentioned that he 'may be the only actor too old to play Lear'. But as the film follows its Lear-like arc Reynolds doesn't have anything like the skills to pull off any kind of development. In fact you begin to wonder whether the disdain with which his character treats the amateurs around him is put on at all.

The other major problem is that it simply isn't funny enough. There are a few smiles and the odd chuckle but the only person coming close to inspiring laughter is Imelda Staunton in a turn so fruity she could make up two of your five-a-day. As Mary, the owner of the B&B, she simmers and smoulders with sexual frustration like a bottle of bubbly waiting to pop. But there's precious little fizz elsewhere. Samantha Bond is fine as director and barely followed through love-interest and Derek Jacobi is appositely cast as the old-school ham who would have been playing Lear if it wasn't for the eleventh hour arrival of Steel. The script is good on the whole and is actually quite clever in the parallels it draws between the story of Lear and the narrative of the characters in the film. I think the problem may be the direction, which is pedestrian at best and occasionally a little...well - amateurish.

Yet another film to join the legions of British comedies which fail to deliver even a pleasant enough hour and a half of entertainment.


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