Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Movie *Dir: Ben Kellett. With: Brendan O’Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Robert Bathurst. 97 mins. Cert: 15
Perhaps some fourth walls just aren’t made to be broken. The blowsy Irish market trader Agnes Brown first appeared on screen, played more or less straight by Anjelica Huston, in 1999’s Agnes Browne [sic], the actress’s shrug-inducing adaptation of Brendan O’Carroll’s novel The Mammy. That movie did no business whatsoever, leading writer-performer O’Carroll to reassert control over the character in much the same way Robin Williams did over his family in Mrs. Doubtfire: by dragging up. O’Carroll repositioned Agnes as the star of an old-school sitcom that didn’t even feign the vaguely progressive leanings of its primetime stablemate Citizen Khan: this really was just a man in a dress, Dick Emery-style, hitting another man repeatedly over the head with a tea tray.
You either found this funny or you didn’t, but enough viewers did around the moment of the wildly profitable Inbetweeners film for the BBC beancounters to justify the existence of this latest exercise in brand expansion, announced onscreen as Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Movie. (Anjelica Huston can, presumably, feck off.) It would not be unfair to say only modest levels of time and money have been expended on it: unlike Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, where you sensed the presence of a huddling team of writers, striving to craft new material up until the very second the cameras rolled, D’Movie runs with a plotline – Mrs. Brown has to defend her business from multiple threats – which could equally have served any Steptoe and Son or Are You Being Served? spin-off.
That a key subplot involves Mrs. Brown trying to avoid paying an unexpectedly large tax bill suggests O’Carroll has started writing what he knows, just as George Lucas did around the point the later Star Wars movies got bogged down in committee rooms. Possibly the newly flush writer-star has spent too long negotiating with HMRC, because the comedy here is underwritten at best. Someone mistakes Placido Domingo for a holiday resort. A contrived acronym turns a MP into a PRIC. Film and TV themes (The Pink Panther, The A-Team, The Great Escape) are thrown in, apparently just so we can recognise them. The old-school mildness extends to mild racism: the idea of an Indian trader being mistaken for Jamaican, or a middle-aged Irishman impersonating a Chinese man (introducing O’Carroll’s new creation, karate instructor Mr. Wang: “Harrow!”) is meant to induce big, bronchial wheezes.
Sitcom veteran Ben Kellett directs it functionally, venturing brief, touristy exteriors of Dublin – in which sparse numbers of extras are seen congregating – before retreating to safe, obvious, cheap-looking set-bound business. Yet with the exception of an opening fire safety announcement, the sitcom’s meta-ness has been dialled back. In this rushed and cramped context, the inbuilt bloopers just look unprofessional, indistinct from the other fluffed or half-hearted material; the new notes of sentiment and whimsy only recall Agnes Brown-with-an-e. You sense O’Carroll has diluted his own show’s essence for wider consumption: while the sitcom could be broad, it was often clever with it, and never this bland.
Unlike Guest House Paradiso or Kevin and Perry Go Large or Keith Lemon, then, D’Movie is never aggressively, in-your-face bad, more a flatly indifferent cash-in – and the devoted fanbase this character has accrued over the past decade may yet rally to ensure it does indeed become another Inbetweeners-style box-office bonanza: comedy is subjective, after all. Yet poking through the thin stew served up here in vain search of the one belly laugh or handful of chuckles that might justify handing over that hard-earned tenner this weekend, one is led to the conclusion comedy has never been quite as subjective as this.
Mrs. Brown's Boys: D'Movie opens in cinemas nationwide today.