Best man Andrew Scott struggles to maintain control on a weekend with groom-to-be Hugh O’Conor in The Stag.
THE STAG (15)
Boys will be buffoons in John Butler’s raucous comedy about male friends who gets into scrapes during a stag weekend in rural Ireland.
Far gentler than The Hangover but peppered with similar moments of outrageous misfortune, The Stag chugs along pleasantly and elicits wry smiles as the characters find themselves stark naked in a wood with only makeshift squirrel skin thongs to spare their blushes.
Butler’s script, co-written by actor Peter McDonald, trades in broad stereotypes and never threatens to shatter our preconceptions.
Thus the wimp who claims “I can’t abide U2” at the beginning of the film weeps openly to a ballad by Bono and co in the closing frames, and a domineering brother-in-law reveals chinks in his armour to remind us that bullies have hearts too.
It’s a blessing that the script dodges the outlandish, gross-out humour that seems to be the stock-in-trade of American comedies about friendship and male bonding.
So while there are some bodily fluids, they remain safely off camera, and the two gay characters aren’t simply targets for a barrage of homophobia.
Groom-to-be Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) is a self-confessed metrosexual, who would rather attend a hen party with his beautiful fiancee Ruth (Amy Huberman) than suffer the horrors of a stag do.
He is heavily involved in preparations for the big day and lovingly constructs a miniature representation of his dream reception room.
“Very few [grooms] make doll’s houses,” observes the wedding planner tartly.
“It’s a diorama,” he protests.
At the behest of his bride-to-be, Fionnan allows best man Davin (Andrew Scott) to organise a lads-only weekend.
They settle on a rugged camping expedition with good mate Simon (Brian Gleeson) and long-term couple Big Kevin (Andrew Bennett) and Little Kevin (Michael Legge).
Ruth is keen for Fionnan to bond with her fearsome older brother, nicknamed The Machine (Peter McDonald), and assumes her sibling will be invited on this outdoors retreat.
Davin conveniently forgets to tell The Machine, but the bullish brother-in-law is tipped off and he gatecrashes the stag party.
Fragile bonds of friendship are tested to the limit as Fionnan and co withstand a barrage of insults from The Machine, trekking from disaster to despair via a near-death experience with a gun-toting farmer.
At 94-minutes, The Stag doesn’t outstay its welcome but saying a resounding “I do” to Butler’s uneven film is tricky.
The cast inhabit roles with warmth and gusto and the rapport between Scott and O’Conor papers over some of the cracks.
McDonald’s altercation with an electric fence provides a comic highpoint but his character’s persistent nagging wears thin.
A cosy coda tries unsuccessfully to convince us that The Machine’s heavy-handed tactics were all designed to make Fionnan and co better men.
NEED FOR SPEED (12A)
Inspired by a series of video games in which players get behind the wheel of souped-up motors, Need For Speed accelerates smoothly into the slipstream of The Fast And The Furious and its high-octane pretenders.
Director Scott Waugh puts the pedal to the metal from the turbo-charged opening which establishes a rivalry between the cash-strapped protagonist (Aaron Paul) and his cocksure rival (Dominic Cooper) that drives the narrative to its predictably tragic resolution.
There are few surprises in George Gatins’ simplistic and linear script that casually revs its engine before delivering a high-speed finale that determines once and for all who is king of the winding highways.
Aaron Paul attempts to jumpstart his big screen career off the back of the TV series Breaking Bad and he is extremely likable in a woefully malnourished role.
His deep, growling voice cuts through the squealing brakes and crashes of passing motorists, who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cooper is far less impressive as the slippery antagonist, whose greed, recklessness and overinflated ego bring about his downfall. He is insipid and not remotely menacing.
British rising star Imogen Poots continues her ascent with a spirited and eye-catching supporting performance as a ballsy car broker, who proves she’s much more than a pretty face.
The story centres on car mechanic Tobey Marshall (Paul), who runs his father’s garage but is struggling to make ends meet so he relies on prize money from illegal street races.
Aided by his team comprising Benny (Kid Cudi), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), Finn (Rami Malek) and Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), Tobey is king of the road until a race against Dino Brewster (Cooper) ends in an inferno.
Tobey is arrested and sentenced to time behind bars for a crime he did not commit while Dino walks away untarnished by suspicion.
Two years later, Tobey is released and he swears revenge against Dino by competing against his nemesis in a legendary race organised by the enigmatic Monarch (Michael Keaton).
However, Tobey doesn’t have a car so he borrows a turbo-charged vehicle and agrees to take car dealer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) in the passenger seat as insurance.
Sparks of sexual attraction fly between Tobey and Julia, complicating his relationship with old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson).
Need For Speed is neither as deliriously fast nor furious as the films it hopes to emulate.
Director Waugh choreographs some slick set pieces including pursuits around city streets and a daredevil airborne escape.
However, under the bonnet, the picture lacks depth and characterisation, and the final 15 minutes feel like an anticlimax.
Thankfully spirited performances from Paul and Poots compel us to buckle up for the bumpy if predictable and familiar ride.