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'The Inbetweeners 2': Film Review

The Inbetweeners 2 - H 2014
Vince Valitutti/frontline photographer

The Bottom Line

Sub-par youth comedy brings the chunder Down Under.

Cast

Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley, Blake Harrison

Directors

Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Australia-set follow-up to 2011 hit has scored the U.K. box office's biggest-ever opening day for a comedy.

Initial box-office indications suggest The Inbetweeners 2 will be to 2011's The Inbetweeners Movie as The Hangover Part II was to The Hangover: an inferior, gross-out-inflected sequel that rakes in even more sterling than its surprise-smash predecessor. Once again, four mismatched pals from suburban London are temporarily transplanted to an exotic foreign clime that provides sunny, perfunctory backdrops for their social and sexual misadventures. Straining very hard to be as sophomorically "offensive" as possible within the confines of an R-equivalent "15" certification, this Australia-set cash-in is tailored near-exclusively for its target under-25 male demographic; a property that began life in 2008 as a small-screen sitcom has seemingly now exhausted its creative juice.

A record-breaking opening-day haul of £2.75 million ($4.5 million) may nevertheless ensure the survival of a franchise that's proven surprisingly successful at home and in certain overseas territories; in such markets DVD/VOD prospects look money-spinningly bright. In North America, however, an MTV remake of the original show stalled after a dozen episodes, while The Inbetweeners Movie eked out just $36,000 on a fleeting 10-screen "release." In Australia, by contrast, takings breasted the $10 million (U.S.) mark, making the choice of new location a financially savvy one.

A shame, then, that writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris — who scripted both the original TV series and the first movie and take over directing duties from the latter's Ben Palmer — should make so little of the continent-nation's potential. Australian characters with more than a bit part can be counted on a koala's hand, the emphasis being squarely on our four hapless "inbetweeners" and the compatriots they encounter in Sydney, Gold Coast and Outback. The follies of backpacking, hippy-dippy middle-class 20-somethings make large, soft targets for Beesley and Morris's humor, amid similarly unimaginative gags revolving around Oz "ocker" stereotypes.

All scriptwriting energies have evidently been poured into the central quartet: brainiac, maladroit narrator Will (Simon Bird), slightly neurotic nice-guy Simon (Joe Thomas); lanky, easygoing doofus Neil (Blake Harrison) and motor-mouthed, self-deluding satyr Jay (James Buckley). It's the latter's "gap year" staying with a relative in Sydney that delivers the pretext for the flimsy plot, revolving around his lovelorn pursuit of ex-girlfriend Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley). Jane and Jay got together at the end of The Inbetweeners Movie, whose last reel saw all four boys implausibly — but happily — set up with girlfriends. There's no mention here of Will or Neil's paramours; Simon's squeeze, Lucy (Tamla Kari), intermittently glimpsed via Skype, fares even worse, having been insultingly transformed from a sweet, smitten lass into a caricature of the controlling, harridan shrew.

Underwritten female roles mar both Inbetweeners movies, episodic affairs whose visuals and technical credits never rise above TV-level competence; interludes of split-screen here won't give Brian De Palma too much to worry about, and despite the deployment of a 2.35:1 frame even the Outback looks underwhelming. It's here that the chaps — and the picture — grind to a halt during a protracted, insufficiently hilarious finale in which they risk death on a long, long, long drive. Indeed, it's all downhill after a crudely effective second-half set piece involving a water park, Will and the fecal fruits of Neil's irritable bowels, our narrator's humiliation mockingly rendered via shuttery slow-motion and solemn classical music.

Six years down the line, the foursome (most of whom will be in their 30s by the middle of 2015) have long since settled comfortably into their roles, and there's pleasure to be gleaned from the simple physical and verbal rough-housing of their interactions. Bird, displaying the painfully dweeby appeal of a young Rowan Atkinson, confirms once again that he's the best bet to go on to bigger, better — and more consistently amusing — things.

Production company: Bwark
Cast: Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Emily Berrington, Tamla Kari, Freddie Stroma
Directors-screenwriters: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris
Producer: Spencer Millman
Executive producers: Damon Beesley, Phil Clarke, Tracey Josephs, Caroline Leddy, Mark Lesbirel, Leo Martin, Iain Morris, Tessa Ross
Cinematographer: Ben Wheeler
Production designer: Richard Bullock
Costume designer: Claire Finlay-Thompson
Editor: William Webb
Music: David Arnold, Michael Price

No rating, 96 minutes