The problem with successful comedians trying to make their mark on the big screen is that the directors of their films too often try to make the film an extension of their stand-up act or TV vehicle. As a result, the films can often end up being a disjointed mess and severely dent the credibility of the comedian in all areas.
Fortunately, director _John Duigan_ has not made the mistake of doing the same with _Steve Coogan_ in this excellent little comedy caper. Instead, he highlights what an outstanding comedy actor _Coogan_ has the potential to be, and actually bothers to adopt a half-decent script to help him along with.
The film is set in Manchester and focuses on the attempts of an inept parole officer Simon Garden (_Coogan_), along with a band of his ex-clients (played by _Om Puri_, _Ben Miller_ and _Emma Williams_ amongst others) to recover a tape that proves that a bent copper murdered an accountant. And, to be frank, that's really all there is to it.
As is usual with these Britcoms, the real strength lies in the intricacies of the script in providing the strong cast of British character actors with some superb lines. And there are plenty of them flying around, and are superbly delivered by a strong cast of familiar-looking British actors. The most familiar of them are _Puri_ from the superb culture-clash Britcom **East Is East**, and _Miller_ who is one half of underrated TV comedy duo Armstrong & Miller, and both of them are the strongest members of a sparkling support cast.
_Coogan_ himself is excellent. I can't say that I've ever personally been a fan of his TV grotesques such as Paul/Pauline Calf and Alan Partridge, but there has never been any doubting his standing as one of Britain's premier comedians. Here he turns in a superbly confident debut as a movie lead, managing to stay well away from being annoying with a character whose ineptitudes could well have resulted in that. This performance leads me to suggest that his upcoming role in **24 Hour Party People** could well be one of the most eagerly anticipated performances in the near-future of British cinema.
In the supporting cast, the young actress _Williams_ gets a hilarious scene with a dismembered human head as well as perfecting the art of saying "Bollocks!" in a perfect Mancunian accent and almost outshines _Coogan_, whilst _Puri_ also shines in an underused role as George the Beach Boys-loving serial bigamist.
There are some superb comedy set-pieces. A hilarious scene involving some grossly inappropriate crisp-eating whilst watching the murder of a human being ("Well, an accountant", as Simon points out) is the stand-out, as is his pathetic rooftop bribing of two bouncers with £40 and a bank card.
Some of it doesn't work so well. A scene where _Coogan_ tries to fight off some bad guys with various office items is painfully unfunny. And _Omar Sharif's_ cameo as a criminal mastermind is as pointless as it is unwanted.
For me personally, great entertainment was had watching a steady stream of familiar Manchester locations go past. I spent most of the film saying to my friend, "Ooh! We walked down there once!" But believe me when I say that there's a lot more to recommend this film for other than the fact that they have a shot of Central Library. It's a little gem and deserves to be every bit as big a hit as **The Full Monty** was.
8Steve Grzesiak's Score