The View From Here

Waiting for the great leap forward

Michael Bonner

It's a very risky manoeuvre to pull off successfully -- that is, graduating from TV to the movies, from the relatively parochial world of the Channel 4 sitcom to the bright and shiny universe of multiplexes, ancilliary revenue streams and premiers at Leicester Square.

With former Spaced stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost currently receiving, as they say, rave reviews in the States for the second film, Hot Fuzz, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, whose Peep Show is an appointment to view for many in the UNCUT office, have attempted to make that leap to celluloid success with Magicians.

Shockingly, for a comedy, Magicians is criminally unfunny. And this despite being scripted by the Peep Show writers, and with Mitchell and Webb doing a variation on their characters from the show (Mitchell: prissy and fussy yet strangely loveable; Webb: preening, smug tosser). They play magicians, once part of a double act who fell out and now have to work together again to enter a magic tournament. The script is crude, and not in a good way, and there's holes in the plot so big you could pilot a fleet of sleek and glistening Boengs through.

So, what went wrong? Why isn't it funny? I wonder if it's because, despite four series of Peep Show under their belts, plus a slew of radio series and work seperately in other shows, they're just not ready for the movies yet. Maybe they had a window of opportunity they were obliged to take, and the script never got as fully developed or polished as it should have been. All the same, they must have watched the dailies back. They're not supid blokes -- they went to Cambridge, you know -- they must have realised it wasn't working.

But when does it work? What makes a good movie for TV stars? The League Of Gentlemen cannily did more of the same, only bigger, for their movie outing, upping the ante on their own fictional world of Royston Vaysey. Pegg and Frost took the fundamental concepts inherent in Spaced -- all that love of pop culture references and late-night, stoner babble -- and had a huge Transatlantic hit with Shaun Of The Dead. It seems, if you're giving the audiences some kind of riff on your established TV personae, it'll work (probably). In the same way John Cleese has carved out a moderately successful movie career playing Basil Fawlty, so Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones' dire Morons From Outer Space tanked because a) it bore no relationship to anything they'd done previously and b) some idiot decided it'd be A Good Idea to split up a perfectly functional double act. I'd rather not, at this point, open up a conversation on the relative merits of movie versions of Seventies sitcoms -- we all know Porridge is the only way that counts.

The beauty of Peep Show -- apart from the skin-crawlingly horrendous situations the characters find themselves in -- is the vocalisation of their interior thought processes, often hysterically, brutally cruel at that. In Magicians, Mitchell and Webb, sadly, don't really find themselves in the kind of knuckle-chewingly embarrassing situations they end up in Peep Show. The narrative is in no way as sadistic.

Magicians opens in the UK this Friday


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