Faintheart

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Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival

EDINBURGH -- These are resurgent times for British cinema, so it's surprising that the Edinburgh festival, one of the industry's major national showcases, should select the decidedly so-so "Faintheart" for its prestigious closing-night slot. A fitfully amusing but never hilarious affair about sad-sack middle-aged blokes united by their passion for historical reenactment, the movie's main selling-point lies off-camera. Billed as "the world's first user-generated feature-film," the picture was developed in close consultation with the users of online social-networking site MySpace. The resulting free publicity may yield returns at the U.K. boxoffice and later on the small screen, but international prospects appear as dim as the picture's oft-muddy cinematography.

Ironically, the MySpacers' input seems to have produced a classic "too many cooks" scenario, as the running-time struggles to contain myriad wacky characters and underdeveloped sub-plots. Focus is on Richard (Eddie Marsan), by day a drone in a Home Depot-style superstore, at weekends a sword-wielding, costumed participant in historical role-play jamborees. So devoted is he to his hobby that his marriage to Cath (Jessica Hynes) has hit the rocks, and their teenage son Martin (Joseph Hamilton) regards him with embarrassment. This hapless putz must belatedly develop a backbone if he's to win back the hand of his "fair maiden" -- not to mention his battered self-esteem.

The script sticks closely to the plucky-underdog template so beloved of Brit cinema, the filmmakers clearly hoping that the old "Full Monty" magic still casts a spell. This unadventurous approach might not have been a problem if the picture didn't present itself as such a tribute to oddball, follow-your-own-path eccentricity -- or if the dialogue had been sharper, the humor more pungent, the moments of farce less clunky.

It's also disappointing that, despite that corny (never-mentioned) title, and despite being mainly shot in the atmospherically ancient, castle-crowned town of Ludlow, the movie pays only basic lip-service to Britain's fascinating, battle-scarred history. The talented ensemble deserves better, especially Marsan, a consistently superb character actor in the Paul Giamatti mold who all too seldom nabs center stage.

Production company: Vertigo Films. Cast: Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Jessica Hynes, Bronagh Gallager, Tim Healy. Director: Vito Rocco. Screenwriters: David Lemon, Vito Rocco. Executive producers: Peter Carlton, Lee Thomas, Rob Fraser, Nick Love, Travis Katz. Producers: Rachel Connors, Judy Counihan, Arvind Ethan David, James Fabricant, Allan Niblo, Rupert Preston, James Richardson. Director of photography: David Katznelson. Production designer: Morgan Kennedy. Music: Mike Batt. Costume designer: Andrew Cox. Editor: Neil Smith. Sales Agent: Vertigo Films, London.

No rating, 90 minutes.


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