Less a film than an idea taking shape in front of the camera, the new offering from the director and stars of the dazzling Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story lacks the earlier movie's high concept.

It's actually a re-edit of the six-part television series of the same name, which featured the comedians "Coogan" and "Brydon" - the characters are the actors, though the boundaries between real life and fancy remain tantalisingly blurred.

The former has been hired by the Observer to tour the Lake District and eat at some seriously good restaurants. Along the way they bicker and compete, riffing on each other's comic ideas while fretting about their attractiveness to women and where their lives are going.

Part of the in-joke is that the food - including that at Michelin-starred places like L'Enclume and Holbeck Ghyll - goes almost completely unremarked-upon because the two characters are so self-obsessed.


It's a fine line to walk, making us like two rather juvenile narcissists in the grip of middle-aged angst, and for my money they don't manage it. There is extraordinary fun to be had watching their uncannily precise impersonations of Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Al Pacino (though such impressions are Brydon's stock-in-trade and are easily to be found on YouTube) but it would take a serious Brydon-Coogan devotee not to get bored with them; they're never going to get bored with themselves.

It's possible this worked better as six half-hours - the theatrical cut does drag. But the editing is problematic for another reason: in the small-screen version, Brydon comes on to a young woman, which lends a very different flavour to the series' (and the film's) final scene. Any such texture has been smoothed away here, in favour of a happy ending, which is perhaps why most American critics loved it.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Running time: 107 mins
Rating: M (contains offensive language, sexual references and drug use)
Verdict: Boys will be boys