Friday 5 October 2018

"Strangeways Here We Come" (Guardian 05/10/18)

Strangeways Here We Come *
Dir: Chris Green. With: Elaine Cassidy, Michelle Keegan, Stephen Lord, Oliver Coopersmith. 86 mins. Cert: 15

A certain species of micro-budgeted British film can fill a critic with foreboding from their opening moments, seeming as they do to frontload awfulness as fair warning of the terrible time ahead. This abrasive Salford-set non-com – nothing to do with the Smiths, although roughly as funny as Morrissey is nowadays – charges out the gate pummelling all the wrong buttons. Sink-estate caricatures in thoroughly implausible situations! Larky GBH! Audibly male-authored girl talk! A middle-aged bloke masturbating over a teenager! Nothing causes the heart to sink quite so precipitously, however, as the realisation that these characters will be our heroes for the evening. At which point, the question becomes: well, how low can it go?

The answer: pretty low. Writer-director Chris Green has reheated the germ of an idea that spawned TV’s Shameless and Ideal, aiming to find something grimily irreverent in the sight of bruisers, oddbods, sex pests and pillheads taking murderously extreme measures to see off the rapacious loan shark circling their tower block. The tonal lurches that result are staggering to behold. An unforgivably mishandled blackmail by sex tape, milked for sniggering humour, is limboed under by an incident involving a drugged woman and two horny gamers that is neither amusing nor in any way on. Green, 50, often gives the impression of being a 15-year-old whose parents bought him a camera to prise his hands from his underpants.

The critic is therefore torn between highlighting those actors who make a few scenes tolerable – which is to say bearably woeful, in this context – or granting them the anonymity they surely longed for as they fled the cast-and-crew screening with head under blanket. Let’s at least give them credit for carefully removing the rejection letters from BBC3 commissioning editors that must have been stapled to their scripts, and indeed for having the patience not to have tossed the script itself into the recycling box after a minute’s browsing. One tried-and-tested gag – the one about the old dear who sees a flasher and has a stroke – but the rest isn’t so much a love letter to the people of Salford as a dreadful, perhaps even actionable slur. 

Strangeways Here We Come opens in selected cinemas from today.

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