Verdict: Plodding and formulaic
It's presumptuous to disagree with Ricky Gervais about the television series that made his name, but when I read him quoted in the Weekend Herald as saying that The Office "is actually about universal themes, like boy meets girl, finding a decent job and making a difference" I had to wonder whether he'd watched it.
"It doesn't matter where you are or what time you're in, it's the same for everyone: we're the same wherever we go," he added, a statement as banal as it is demonstrably incorrect. But people will say the most awful rubbish when publicising their movies.
The ingratiating foray into feature directing by Gervais and his Office and Extras sidekick Merchant is set in Reading, which is Gervais (and The Office's) hometown, and doubtless there's an autobiographical element to the story about three unlikely lads: Bruce (Tom Hughes) works in the local factory and nurses a profound resentment towards his catatonically depressed and alcoholic father; the chubby, dorky Snork (Jack Doolan) is a junior manager at the local railway station; and Freddie (Christian Cooke), the embodiment of the film's dramatic aspirations, has buttoned up a white collar and is selling insurance.
Freddie's upward mobility earns the ignorant disapproval of his factory-hand father (an uncomfortable-looking Gervais) and the icy encouragement of his boss (Ralph Fiennes), who has "heartless capitalist pig" tattooed across his head.
All right, I made up the bit about the tattoo, but you get the drift. The boys - well, everyone - are intended as archetypes but they act like stereotypes and despite their considerable personal charm, the unfolding storyline is hackneyed and formulaic.
There are some irresistibly good one-liners (the joke about why Noddy wears a bell on his hat is a cracker), but it gets where it's going slowly and it's not much worth going there anyway. It's episodic in the same way as the TV shows' string of sitcom set-ups were, but what works on 30-minute TV doesn't work in a film. And if I tell you there's a firm but fair Mr Plod for when the boys get out of hand, and that Freddie is in love with the boss' pretty daughter (Felicity Jones), who is betrothed to one of the boss' toadies, you will nod and wink. Even the best set-pieces, such as an excruciating retirement presentation, have a plodding deliberateness about them. Disappointing.
Cast: Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Felicity Jones, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Directors: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Running time: 95 mins
Rating: M (offensive language, sexual references)