Film Review: Wide Open Spaces

18 Jun

*****

Expectations can be a terrible thing. When I heard that Wide Open Spaces, a new film written by one of the co-creators of TV’s Father Ted and starring Father Dougal himself, was coming to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, it’s fair to say I was looking forward to it. Throw in some clever mockumentary-style teaser clips and I was sold.

Sadly, now I’ve seen the film I know to be more careful what I hope for.

Opening in the living room of two friends, Myles (O’Hanlon) and Austin (Ewen Bremner) as they drunkenly watch a George Best DVD, the film then throws them into the back of beyonds to work on the creation of a famine theme park for entrepreneur Gerry (Owen Roe).

When Gerry announces that neither of the men will be paid until his cashflow problems are solved, they must become debt collectors, all the while trying to build the foundations of the theme park using the limited tools supplied.

The tragedy of Wide Open Spaces is that there is so much potential that  never materialises on-screen. The opening scenes do little to inform the viewer why Myles and Austin are friends or how they’ve ended up needing to work for Gerry, while the dialogue introducing the park is muffled on the soundtrack so that without prior knowledge of the plot the audience would be lost.

Gerry’s reasons for starting the park are unclear from the outset, even though Owen Roe does seem to be attempting to breathe some life into the  character that isn’t present in the script.

O’Hanlon and Bremner are amiable enough, but again the lack of a back story makes them mere caricatures. While O’Hanlon seems comfortable as the semi-intellectual Myles, Bremner’s Austin actually becomes less defined as the film progresses, the actor falling back on facial contortions to display confusion and misunderstanding.

Elsewhere, supporting characters are introduced with no depth, Morwenna Banks’ Leonie given little to do and Don Wycherley’s potentially scene-stealing Dulally introduced and then sidelined within the space of a few minutes.

Forgetting the characters for a moment, even the main focus of the film, the world’s first famine theme park, is given short shrift. There’s so much humour to be wrung from the idea, but only a few sight gags filter through to the end product.

Remember Brian Potter’s Fun Day in Phoenix Nights or even the Craggy Island Fun Land in Father Ted’s first episode, where cut-price attractions were built and made laugh-out-loud funny? There’s none of that here. The concept is underplayed throughout, Mathews seemingly unsure quite which plot point to focus on.

Wide Open Spaces is a film that feels as if director Tom Hall has got hold of a first draft script and simply hoped for the best. It will undoubtedly be heavily sold on the involvement of the former Father Ted alumni, but with none of the sparkle or magic that one might expect from Mathews or O’Hanlon, we’re left with an occasionally smirk inducing product that made me feel as cold as Myles and Austin do in their tin hut.

As a wise man once said, down with this sort of thing

Wide Open Spaces opens at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday 20 June.

Have you seen Wide Open Spaces? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @jon_melville.

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