This week’s films reviewed

Ben Miller and David Tennant in What We Did On Our Holidays

Ben Miller and David Tennant in What We Did On Our Holidays

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Raucous British comedy What We Did On Our Holiday

WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY (12A)

In 2007, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin abandoned the conventions of a tightly scripted sitcom and took a more fluid approach to mining laughs in the breakout hit Outnumbered.

While the adult characters’ lines were committed to the page, the young actors were allowed to improvise around suggestions from Hamilton and Jenkin, and consequently delivered natural performances, reacting instinctively to set-ups and punchlines.

The writer-directors adopt the same winning recipe for this uproarious feature film debut, an ill-fated family road trip laced with absurdity that touches the heart and tickles the funny bone.

Once again, it’s the younger cast who scene-steal with aplomb, explaining why a bout of car sickness is a source of joy (“It’s like being a fountain!”) and succinctly distilling the anguish and betrayal of parental infidelity into a single throwaway line: “Dad had an affair with a Paralympic athlete with one foot.”

That’s not to say Hamilton and Jenkin short-change the rest of the ensemble cast, including David Tennant, Rosamund Pike and Billy Connolly.

They snaffle a generous smattering of belly laughs too, like when Connolly’s cantankerous grandfather tries to explain Hitler’s seizure of land in terms a bairn might understand: “Like Monopoly, but with more screaming.”

Gordie McLeod (Connolly) is poised to celebrate his 75th birthday in the Scottish Highlands.

His self-obsessed son Gavin (Ben Miller) is hosting the lavish party to impress the neighbours and hopefully secure the captaincy of the local golf club.

Gavin’s long-suffering and neurotic wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) remains in the background, occasionally exploding with pent-up rage.

As the party beckons, Gavin’s less successful brother Doug (David Tennant) and his wife Abi (Rosamund Pike) arrive with their three children in tow: 11-year-old Lottie (Emilia Jones), who scribbles repeatedly in her notebook so she can remember which lies she is supposed to tell; six-year-old Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), who is obsessed with Vikings; and five-year-old Jess (Harriet Turnbull), whose best friends are two rocks christened Eric and Norman.

The birthday celebrations are unexpectedly thrown into disarray and a media scrum descends on the family’s doorsteps along with an interfering social services officer called Agnes (Celia Imrie), who casts doubt on Doug and Abi’s ability to nurture their dysfunctional brood.

What We Did On Our Holiday is a rip-roaring riot, laying bare the petty jealousies and deep-rooted fears within a family while dealing with serious issues through the unblinkered eyes of the three children.

Tennant and Miller spark a fiery sibling rivalry with excellent support from Pike and Bullmore, the latter proving it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

Hamilton and Jenkin eschew cloying sentimentality in the film’s tricky final third, striking a pleasing and ultimately winning balance between musing and amusing.

RATING: 8/10

THE EQUALIZER (15)

Director Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to the Oscar podium in Training Day, reunites with the charismatic actor for this gratuitously violent reimagining of the beloved 1980s TV series.

Nostalgic memories of Edward Woodward’s refined approach to justice and crime-fighting on the small screen are blown to smithereens by this brutish, big-screen rendering of The Equalizer.

In a dizzying opening fight sequence, Washington impales a corkscrew in one henchman’s noggin and repeatedly pummels a couple more as if he was tenderising a large slab of steak.

Each bone-cracking blow, stab and punch is captured in balletic close-up; a queasy dance of death that reaches a hilarious and frenetic crescendo with drills and sledgehammers in a hardware warehouse where the title character works when he’s not coolly doling out just desserts.

Screenwriter Richard Wenk, who co-wrote The Expendables 2 with Sylvester Stallone, comes perilously close to the tongue-in-cheek tone of that film when Washington is asked by a work colleague how he hurt his bandaged hand and he drolly responds, “I hit it on something stupid”.

We presume he means the script, considering the implausibilities of the final act, steeped in mindless and repetitive bloodletting.

Robert McCall (Washington) has turned his back on his past as a covert government operative and has fashioned an unremarkable life in suburbia, where he nurses memories of his dead wife.

By day, he earns a decent wage in a Home Mart warehouse and mentors another employee, Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), through his security guard’s exam.

By night, McCall works his way through a list of 100 books everyone should read while enjoying a coffee at his local diner, where he befriends a sassy prostitute called Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz).

When she ends up in hospital, battered and bruised at the hands of her controlling Russian pimp Slavi (David Meunier), McCall exacts revenge.

Justice seemingly prevails.

Unfortunately, Slavi and his goons are a link in a bigger chain controlled by the Russian Mafia and they dispatch sadistic fixer Teddy (Marton Csokas) to track down McCall.

The Equalizer starts off promisingly, exploring the minutiae of McCall’s daily life as a man scarred by grief and tormented by his past.

Washington is in his element in these early scenes, capturing the maelstrom of emotions that simmer beneath his character’s placid surface.

Once the first drop of blood is spilt, director Fuqua seizes every opportunity for wanton carnage, to the point that it seems like nothing short of a nuclear explosion will stop McCall in his tracks.

Csokas’ vindictive antagonist has little depth beyond his propensity for cruelty and pain, which is something we experience as the running time drags unnecessarily into a third hour.

RATING: 5/10