Monday, August 29, 2011

Review - The Inbetweeners Movie

Not every film deserves to be seen in a cinema and movie versions of television shows rarely do enough to justify their place on the big screen. The history of British cinema is littered with dismal attempts to give much-loved sitcom characters a movie platform, and the latest programme to make this difficult transition is The Inbetweeners. It is the culmination of a meteoric rise for the show, which began life on E4 in 2008, and after two often hilarious series (followed by a much more strained and patchy third), it has been deemed worthy of a big screen send-off. Sadly, despite its title, The Inbetweeners Movie isn't really much of a movie.

The film has been directed by Ben Palmer, who was responsible for many episodes of the TV show, and he hasn't done much to adapt his style for this new medium. The most ambitious shot in the movie occurs right at the start, as the camera swoops across the show's suburban setting and glides in through an open window, settling on the now-familiar sight of Jay (James Buckley) having a wank (complete with glove, snorkel and fistfuls of ham). Some things never change, and many fans of the series will be cheered by the prospect of watching the characters they love doing the things they've laughed at so many times before. Simon (Joe Thomas) is still hopelessly besotted with his on-off girlfriend Carli, who dumps him in the movie's opening moments, while Neil (Blake Harrison) is as cheerfully oblivious as ever and the studious, sensible Will (Simon Bird) is looking forward to putting his school days behind him and moving on to university. This is the one major change in the boys' lives; the fact that their exams are now over and they're leaving the school environment that bound them together. To mark this end of an era, the four decide to take a holiday in Crete – making use of Jay's inheritance from his dead grandfather – a holiday they presume will be a sex-filled free-for-all, but one that we know will offer nothing but the series of excruciating humiliations we've come to know and love The Inbetweeners for.

The question is whether any of this is different enough from the TV show to justify the greater length and expanse of a cinema feature? "Sending everyone on holiday" has been the basis for TV-to-movie translations from Holiday On the Buses to Kevin and Perry Go Large, with the idea perhaps being that the extra exoticism of a foreign location suggests that the filmmakers are actually giving the core audience something different for their money, something that's worth a trip to the cinema for. The essential problem with so many of these films, however, is the fact that characters who can support a half-hour sitcom between them can rarely survive the demands of carrying a feature. The actors and the writers appear to have wilted under the pressure in this case, with gags and situations that might have passed muster on TV feeling so feeble on the larger canvas.

The actors do give it their best shot. Bird, Buckley, Harrison and Thomas remain a likeable quartet, sharing a natural chemistry and repartee, and our affection for their characters carries this movie an awfully long way. It's not really their fault that they have been lumbered with a script that repeats jokes from the series (Will complaining about a reserved seat and inadvertently insulting a disabled child) or handles some set-pieces in such a laborious fashion (the shit-on-nose comeuppance is a dismal misfire). The boys appear more naïve and downright stupid than ever, which might be an easier way to get laughs but it takes them one step further away from the core of truth that characterised the best episodes, and the female counterparts who have been created to give each inbetweener a love interest are just as poorly written. Sure, there are funny moments scattered throughout, but only enough to fill a single TV episode, and when that many gags are stretched over 100 minutes, it leaves a lot of long, dry patches.

Whether anyone actually cares about The Inbetweeners Movie's value as a film is another matter entirely. Within a week of its release, the picture has broken the record for a comedy at the UK box-office, which proves that familiarity really is the biggest draw for today's cinemagoers. Let people know that they'll get exactly what they expect – with no surprises, no ambition and no attempt to shake up the formula – and they'll turn up in their droves. Of course, it's hard to argue with the box-office returns for The Inbetweeners Movie, but it's disappointing to see them being rewarded so extravagantly for such a cheap, unimaginative and lazy endeavour, and I can't help wishing they'd stayed on the small screen, where they clearly belong.