“Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke” - Steve Martin
There are some actors one hates or loves and one of them I think, is Englishman Steve Coogan. I started off disliking him intently and now I am finding myself on the opposite side. He is certainly a talented comedian and his quirky, straight-faced deliveries can be very unsettling – hence the success of his comedy. He has done much more television work than films and his signature “Alan Partridge” shows are sure to elicit groans from even his ardent fans (followed of course by guffaws of laughter). We watched the first of his movies at the weekend, the 2001 John Duigan crime/comedy, “The Parole Officer”.
Coogan plays Steve Garden, an unsuccessful London parole officer who is called to account for himself after everyone he works with complains about him. In order to chasten him the Board of review sends him to Manchester (no accident as this is in fact Coogan’s birthplace!). There, he is framed for a murder committed by one of Manchester’s leading police constables who has turned crooked. The only evidence proving to Garden’s innocence is a CCTV videotape which is locked inside a bank vault. With the help of four inept ex-criminals and love interest Emma (Lena Headey), Garden must break into the bank and steal the CCTV tape in order to prove his innocence.
The film is no major landmark of the cinematic art and the plot is anything but original nor is the acting exceptional. It is just a pleasant, amusing, often clever B-grade movie that is good to watch and have a few laughs over. Coogan’s antics are up to the script, which Steve Coogan co-wrote with Henry Normal. There are references to famous movies in this film (for example quite a funny little soliloquy about Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “A Short Film About Killing” - 1988) and the whole of this movie does remind me of “The Pink Panther” series a little bit. It does send up the “crime caper” genre and Coogan’s inept leadership and bumbling team manage to cancel each other out in order to bring the film (you guessed it!) to a happy end.
Omar Sharif has a prominent cameo role, but his performance is pedestrian and anything but impressive. The rest of the cast work much better with the material, which is funny mainly because it is delivered well, with great timing. For his cinematic debut, Coogan plays it safe and much of his improvisatory comedic talents are underutilised in this film. The movie is likeable and idiosyncratic, but it doesn’t deliver huge numbers of belly laughs. Most of the jokes are subtle and quite dry, so when the gross sight gags come along (e.g. the rollercoaster scene), they seem to be out of place. We enjoyed it overall and would recommend it to anyone with a quirky sense of humour who enjoys British comedy.
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