A Bunch Of Amateurs

A Bunch Of Amateurs

**

Reviewed by: Mike Davies

Inexplicably selected as a last minute replacement for Her Maj’s 2008 Royal Film pleasure when Harry Potter was yanked because it wasn’t finished, this isn’t quite as dreadful as some suggested. But, as directed by Andy Cadiff, a 20 year veteran of second division TV sitcoms such as The War At Home and Spin City as well as the culprit behind Sweet Liberty, it’s still pretty awful.

Looking particularly paunchy, acting as if on medication and (as widely reported) having to resort to reading idiot boards, Burt Reynolds is Jefferson Steel, an ageing faded action star whose career has hit rock bottom. That, however, doesn’t stop him acting like a preening egotistical Hollywood diva. An attitude that doesn’t go down too well with the English amdram locals when he arrives in their sleepy village to star in their production of King Lear.

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Oh, hang on, let’s backtrack. He’s there because, in order to get him out of his hair, his equally washed up agent (an embarrassingly bad Charles Durning looking very old and not at all well) has led him to believe he’s been invited to Stratford and the RSC. It’s Stratford all right, just that’s it’s in Surrey and not upon Avon.

Dorothy (Samantha Bond), the company’s director, was hoping that securing even a has-been Hollywood name might attract enough media attention and punters to save the Stratford Players from having to close up shop. But she hadn’t reckoned on having to deal with someone demanding to be treated like a superstar, who hadn’t read the play and wanted to cut it, rewrite it and give it a happy ending.

With Imelda Staunton as the bed and breakfast owner with a crush on her ungrateful guest and Derek Jacobi as the pompous Nigel, bitter that his thespian star has been eclipsed by this arrogant uncultured upstart, the film clumps along in standard fish out of water mode as Steel throws a tantrum about rehearsing in a barn and finds himself accused of having an affair with the fitness trainer wife of the production’s brewery boss sponsor.

Naturally, the intrinsically insecure Jefferson gets to learn some life lessons about humility and genuine love of the theatre while, wouldn’t you know, his eventual immersion in the role provides a wake up call about his relationship with his own estranged actress daughter.

It’s all incredibly creaky, decidedly low budget and, despite being co-written by Private Eye’s Ian Hislop, all rather toothless and low on chuckles. There are some almost inadvertently charming moments and the Queen apparently declared it "quite amusing", though didn’t add what she thought about the swearing. But it all feels incredibly dated and low rent Britcom, the sight of Jacobi demeaning himself with a pratfall into a pig sty probably a far better comment on the film than any review.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2009
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A Hollywood agent tricks an ageing action star into appearing as King Lear in an amdram production.
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Director: Andy Cadiff

Writer: Nick Newman, John Ross, Ian Hislop, Jonathan Gershfield

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Imelda Staunton, Derek Jacobi, Charles Durning, Samantha Bond, Peter Gunn, Alistair Petrie, Alexandra Weaver, Camilla Arfwedson, Richard James, Tony Jayawardena, Heidi Monsen, Libby Hayter, Michael Wildman, Gemma Lawrence

Year: 2008

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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