Saturday 7 January 2017

Craicheads: "The Young Offenders"

Already a sizeable hit in its native Ireland, Peter Foott's The Young Offenders arrives on these shores as a fine recent example of what we might call "eejit comedy": an elaboration of an apparently true story, centred on two bumfluffed teenagers who could scarcely be any less like criminal masterminds. Hearing rumours that a million-Euro shipment of cocaine has washed up somewhere along the coastline, opportunist Cork lads Conor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley) set off on stolen bikes to retrieve their share, convinced they will soon be possessed of the fortune to buy up "mansions, cars, caves and tits" - everything a boy raised on MTV's Cribs might desire. That these aren't the brightest of sparks can be discerned from the fact one of their stolen vehicles is, in fact, a girls' bike; the punchline - and we can see it coming a mile off, although the experience is no less pleasureable for that - is that they will conspire to make a complete bollix of this impromptu salvage operation.

To his eternal credit, Foott proves a good deal more ambitious and accomplished than his feckless characters. He knows he can get cheap laughs just from the sight of these two stroppy wankers in tracksuits, defined as much as anything by the handscrawled "FUCK OFF" sign taped to Conor's bedroom door. Yet he takes care to build a proper, touching relationship between them, too: joshing, cursing and roughhousing their way through each at least semi-improvised scenario, Murphy and Walley come to resemble a spotty Laurel and Hardy, or less spotty Adam and Paul, depending on your comedy vintage. You might even claim this misadventure as a bromance-in-waiting - and indeed the stout, friendless, awestruck Conor gamely confesses at one point that he would hypothetically go gay for the gangling, headfirst Jock, although he of course mispronounces "hypothetically" as he does.

If the bulk of the film adheres to the quest-narrative template, shuttling our gawky anti-heroes from city to coast, all the while pursued by their cop nemesis (memorably described in Conor's voiceover as "a shit Serpico"), Foott always gives his characters funny things to say and do. I very much enjoyed the boys' plans to meet their pursuer halfway in a Heat-style coffeeshop tête-à-tête, lent a new parochial bathos here for being downgraded to a tea room. (Jock's intended opening gambit is to wonder whether the lawman might give them a headstart.) There's also plenty in the boys' attempts to strangle a chicken for their tea: as Conor phrases it, "Ignorance really is bliss, and right then, we had shitloads of it." What's crucial is that Foott is broadly on their side: the film's bright styling, boisterous soundtrack (including a belated Sultans of Ping revival) and youthful energy seems to recognise that this diversion is as much an adventure for this pair as the one those posh Anglo-Saxon types set out on in the recent Swallows and Amazons remake.

Better yet: as the film progresses, it sketches in an affecting sense of what the protagonists might be looking to escape from - a boozy, savings-nicking da in Jock's case, and for Conor, a life behind the fish stall run by his single mother (a nice, sympathetic turn by Hilary Rose), who takes one look at her son's partner-in-crime and asks her boy, "If you are going to mindlessly mimic someone, can you at least pick someone with half a brain?" Getting us to invest in these eejits - to warm to their dumb loyalty and dogged persistence - allows Foott to deliver a genuine crime-movie kick come the final reel, as the boys inadvertently cross the one person they shouldn't, and their idiocy comes home to roost. Now that the McDonagh brothers have blotted their copybooks, there's all the more reason to cheer a vibrant comic sensibility emerging from the Emerald Isle: Foott does more to humanise these dolts than any of Noel Clarke's 'Hood movies did for their characters - and in the throwaway epithet "dickhead on the roof", he may just have inspired a new musical somewhere, too.

The Young Offenders is now playing in selected Irish cinemas, and opens in selected UK mainland cinemas from Friday. 

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