The Inbetweeners 2 ***
The Mrs.Brown’s Boys d’bacle has set a low bar for this season’s TV-to-film cash-ins. This follow-up to 2011’s improbably profitable feature-length special clears it with distance to spare – though its ultimate success may depend on how much of an achievement the individual viewer takes that to be. Having got away with the timeworn “go overseas” gambit once, creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley now tempt fate in dispatching their sniggering teenage principals further afield, to Australia: you might well guess the phrases “Down Under” and “bush” will be flogged for all they’re worth.
It’s from here that likely lad Jay (James Buckley) has emailed home boasting of his vast sexual success as a superstar DJ in one of Sydney’s hottest nightclubs. Stuck in fresher-year or temping hell back home, his old chums – everynerd Will (Simon Bird), under-the-thumb Simon (Joe Thomas) and dim bulb Neil (Blake Harrison) – leap at the opportunity to visit, only to find that Jay is, in fact, engaged as said club’s lavatory attendant, and camping on the lawn of an aggressively belittling uncle. As he plaintively puts it, once his front has been breached: “I’m working in a toilet, and living in a tent.”
Contrasting Kylie-rooting fantasy with fetid backpacker reality is a workable idea, yet it’s only part-sustained by this skittish endeavour, which initially seems destined to compound its predecessor’s shortcomings. Some of the abundant thought channelled into knob gags could have been diverted towards developing the boys’ female counterparts beyond harpies and fuckpuppets. And as with the first film, Number Two never quite shakes its resemblance to primetime E4, all ad-ready fadeouts and Walkabout interiors. Yes, this franchise’s appeal lies in watching very ordinary boys making prats of themselves – but couldn’t the vehicles transporting them to the wider world display slightly more ambition?
It’s the cast who step up, effortlessly carrying TI2 past most of these reservations, and finding enough new notes en route to keep staleness at bay: Bird’s constipated contempt finds fine outlet in a mid-film rant against trustafarian fellow travellers, and it’s now clear Morris and Beesley have one (ahem) for-the-annals creation in Harrison’s world-beating thickie Neil, a consistently hilarious presence whether confusing hostel with hospice or utterly failing to grasp the concept of double-barrelled names. One waterpark sequence, pitting him against the twin forces of dolphins and IBS, approaches peak-Farrelly levels of considered gross-out.
You find yourself willing the considerable comedy nous collected either side of the camera to come good, and after much barhopping, everyone finally finds the one situation that works for them – and the film. Stranding our heroes in the Outback suddenly gives cinematographer Ben Wheeler bigger decisions to make, and the resulting crisis helps to set these friendships, personalities and jokes in stone: even when made subject to extreme heat, the boys persist in sketching cocks in the sand. Morris and Beesley have taken these characters far beyond their origins, yet a large swathe of the population will doubtless be reassured to learn they are, still, incorrigible.
The Inbetweeners 2 is in cinemas nationwide.