Andy Cadiff | 92 mins | TV | 15
A faded action movie star (Burt Reynolds) thinks he’s been signed up to play King Lear with the RSC… but when he arrives in England, he finds it’s just a small village amateur dramatics group. Hilarity, and the odd heart-warming message, ensue.
To put it simply, A Bunch of Amateurs is entertaining enough and has its moments. It’s thoroughly predictable — most viewers could probably map out the plot before the film even begins, so it’s certainly easy to guess what’s coming next as it trots along — but there’s also something reassuring about that predictability — it’s exactly the sort of Quaint British Movie you expect it to be. Some will find that insufferable; I’m sure there are some who find it absolutely lovely and it’s the only kind of film they ever want to watch. I think it’s fine for what it is, a nice hour-and-a-half on a Sunday afternoon with something unchallenging but likely to raise a smile.
It’s certainly well cast. Well, mostly. Reynolds isn’t a great actor, is he? Appropriate casting when his bad-actor character is acting, then, but not so hot the rest of the time. (Reportedly he struggled to learn his lines and consequently many differ significantly from the play. So I’m not wrong, am I.) Luckily he’s made up for by a cast that includes Samantha Bond, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi, all ceaselessly watchable, plus a supporting cast of faces you’ll likely recognise from British telly.
Late on, there are a couple of jumps in the plot that suggest cut scenes. Or bad writing. So we’ll go with the former. I appreciate the (presumed) desire to keep the running time tight, but there were a couple of glitches I observed and it would be nice if they’d been smoothed over. Ian Hislop is a credited writer — I guess we know the source of some light newspaper satire that’s sprinkled across the film (most notably in the final act), then.
The worst gap in the writing is that it goes unexplained why the am-dram group thought he was a good idea at any time. It’s ‘explained’ as the school-age daughter of the group’s director suggesting him, but no idea is given as to why — he’s not a great actor; he’s a wash-up who used to be in crap action films. If he’d been suggested by a version of Nick Frost’s character from Hot Fuzz, or by the B&B lady who fancies the pants off him, that might make sense, but why the schoolgirl? And why did anyone agree to it? It’s sort of ignored in the hope we won’t notice this massive whole in the logic, but… well, I noticed.
Probably the best bit is the series of films Reynolds’ character is known for: Ultimate Finality 4 plays as a nice, subtly-used background gag.
The 15 certificate is overdoing it. There’s a couple of instances of swearing that make it clear how that rating was achieved (according to the BBFC, ten in total, including seven in one sentence), but those aside it’s really not a 15 kind of film; it’s far too gentle for the vast majority of its running time to merit so high a classification. Not that anyone under the age of 15 is going to be dying to see it, but the implication of what a 15 contains is more likely to put off the real prospective audience. Maybe. Oh I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem right.
IMDb reports that “Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip requested a copy of this film after attending it’s Premiere 2008 Royal Film Performance so they could show it at Sandringham Castle for the rest of the family over the Christmas holidays.” Take from that what you will.