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Its the first big-screen vehicle for Steve Coogan, who plays the titular officer as a watered-down, more likeable version of his most famous creation, Alan Partridge. After being set up by a corrupt detective Coogans hapless Simon Garden--in fact always identified as a Probation Officer, so presumably the films title is an attempt to attract a transatlantic audience--must recruit a motley gang of his ex-con clients to plan and execute a bank robbery in Manchester. Indeed, one of the films principal attractions is its affectionate use of that city centre as a setting instead of the more usual seedy London locations of most British caper-comedies.
Coogans gang are a familiarly dysfunctional bunch, redeemed by sympathetic performances from, notably, Om Puri as irascible serial bigamist George and the young Emma Williams as serial car thief Kirsty. Not enough effort goes into fleshing out the characters, though, and in particular Lena Headey as Coogans policewoman girlfriend is far too thinly sketched to seem convincing. However, much fun is had by all as the team bond, bicker and construct, A Team-style, the tools they need for the big heist. The bank raid itself is the films highlight and features a surprising deus ex machina appearance from a very distinguished guest star.
If The Parole Officer never stretches to the sublime heights (or psychological depths) of Im Alan Partridge, it does play out in a brisk 90 minutes like an extended episode of Coogans Run; which is to say its got plenty of easygoing charm even if it never pushes any boundaries.
On the DVD: the handful of extra features include a surprisingly serious commentary from Coogan, cowriter Henry Normal, director John Duigan and producer Duncan Kenworthy. More interesting is the handful of deleted scenes, in which we find that some precious character development was sacrificed in the interests of pace (as well as a couple of perfectly good jokes). There's a 22-minute featurette, which isn't really a "making of" but just a series of interviews with the principal cast, plus the trailer and Atomic Kitten's "Eternal Flame" video. The picture is a good anamorphic (16:9) ratio with Dolby 5.1 sound. --Mark Walker