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Alas, poor Burt...
on 16 June 2010
The Curse of the Royal Film Performance strikes again with A Bunch of Amateurs, the long-awaited collaboration between Burt Reynolds and, er, Ian Hislop (the Private Eye editor is one of the screenwriters rather than one of the cast). It ticks all the boxes for the kind of inoffensive resolutely old-fashioned commercial no-hopers that regularly get picked for an event that's like winning the lottery in a Shirley Harris horror story, seeming less a celebration of film than a national warning to steer clear of any cinema unwise enough to screen that year's unfortunate victim. As per the course, the film was a box-office disaster despite being filmed on the cheap on the tax-friendly Isle of Man.
It's not a bad idea, even if it does feel like something Richard Curtis would have toyed with for an hour or two before deciding to just write something else for Hugh Grant instead. Burt Reynolds is the ageing action star whose career is in the toilet, constantly mistaken for Sean Connery or Tom Selleck while his latest flop sequel plays to near-empty houses to only a few bored teens grossed out by how old he is. Even his agent (Charles Durning) is having his furniture repossessed. With no other offers, he's persuaded to `reinvent' himself by playing King Lear at Stratford - only his agent doesn't mention that it's the wrong Stratford and that it's an amateur production to raise funds to save a failing local theatre. Cue misunderstandings with the spoilt star (he demands a trailer, can't relate to his ordinary co-stars on any level, hasn't read the play - he can't even get through the Cliff Notes - and when he finally does thinks it could do with a rewrite and a happy ending), contrived conflict and diva-like behavior and a thinly developed Lear subplot about his difficult relationship with his own daughter before the inevitable warmly redemptive wrap-up.
Reynolds should be perfect casting, but unfortunately he fumbles or mumbles many of the funnier lines and doesn't have the dramatic chops for his scenes as Lear to impress anyone not required by the script to be blown away: he's certainly not giving the part his all despite (or perhaps because of) it being too autobiographical for comfort. Sadly Reynolds simply doesn't look at all healthy for much of the film - in several scenes he's obviously having extreme difficulty walking as if he suffered a serious knee injury some time after shooting started, so it seems entirely possible that he was on painkillers for much of the film, which might explain the performance and the reports of him being unable to remember his lines. Described at one point as "The only actor who may be too old to play King Lear" by Derek Jacobi's jealous am-dram ham, it seems less like a joke than fair comment.
The supporting cast fare rather better - Imelda Staunton's infatuated hotel landlady, Derek Jacobi's slighted rival for the plum part, Samantha Bond's director and some familiar faces from minor Britcoms - but despite a few mildly amusing moments (such as raising the budget by selling phoney sex scandal stories to the tabloids), it all feels like something that should have been made for Sunday evening television rather than a real film. Existing in that imaginary idyllic rural England that only exists in The Vicar of Dibley or Midsummer Murders (minus the senseless violence and the high body count), it's not bad enough to actively dislike but not good enough to warmly embrace.
Extras include soundbite interviews with the cast and crew and trailer.