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Culture Reviews
Killing Bono /By N. Hamm/
35 mm 
Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and others. Directed by Nick Hamm. Starring: Ben Barnes, Krysten Ritter and Robert Sheehan. 114 mins. Ireland, United Kingdom.

By Peter Ellis

Review Top Sheet: Two school friends, one dream: to become a rock star. The first changes his name to Bono, forms the band ‘U2’, and makes it; the other doesn’t and never hits the big time. This “true-ish” bitter-sweet comedy follows the fortunes of the hapless loser and his more talented brother, and is based on the book I was Bono’s Doppleganger by the celebrity’s real-life contemporary, Neil McCormick.

It’s a tale of dreams and jealousy set in 1970s and 80s Ireland and the UK starring Brit Ben Barnes (best known as the lead in ‘Dorian Gray’) as Neil, American Krysten Ritter (Suze in ‘Shopaholic’) as his girlfriend, Gloria and introducing Irish newcomer Robert Sheehan, with his striking looks and amazing green eyes, playing Neil’s younger sibling.

Will you like this film?

Yes if: you want to switch off and chill out to an undemanding comedy, serving up a few smiles and chuckles, while kidding your friends that the films you watch are ‘relevant’ and ‘meaningful’.
No if: you want to watch something ‘relevant’ and ‘meaningful’ or to continue to believe the wit of the Irish is forever sharp … there’s more blah than blarney.
Maybe if: you’re some kind of U2 geek or doing an in-depth study of the history of band movies, believing them to be still ‘relevant’ and ‘meaningful’.

Comments: Like politics, religion, driving and performance in bed, you comment on others’ sense of humour at your peril. One person’s ‘brilliant’ is another’s ‘pathetic’. The predominantly Russian audience at Moscow’s first night showing was given up to bursts of laughter and even the occasional ripple of applause. Perhaps it gains something in translation: I could only muster a broad smile or two.

There were some snappy lines. My personal favourite was when the aspiring schoolboy rockers were lapping up the admiration: “the girls are looking at you as if you’re made out of Mars Bars”, a mate told them in an appealing Irish brogue. Yet, as the plot plodded on into the picture’s less toned midriff, the number of audience belly laughs went down.

While the cast bring a young, fresh-faced enthusiasm, reveling in their on-screen rock’n’roll lifestyle and the film’s ability to persuade large numbers of girls to take off their bras, older, more experienced hands were at the helm. The director, writers, technical crew and some of the supporting actors have noble pedigrees and have helped bring some great British and Irish movies into the world.

Maybe the old timers are resting on their laurels. Like a game of Chinese whispers, or the result of inbreeding, each re-telling or each new generation makes a slight change, a corruption that finally produces something resembling their original films but without the same spirit, the spark lost, the brio gone. It was sad to see veteran British actor Pete Postlethwaite (who plays the McCormicks’ London landlord) obviously ailing: he died of cancer a few months before the film’s release.

Out-of-five star ratings:

Story: ***
Dialogue: **
Substance: **
Film craft: ***

Story comments: Fans will be disappointed if they are hoping for a U2 hit fest: the famed four’s songs hardly feature (though they’d be gladdened at the flattering portrayal of their hero, Bono). Their less-successful twin’s music was especially written for the flick as the McCormick’s band ‘Shook Up’ flip-flops between punk and glam rock. Though you won’t be humming the tunes as you leave the auditorium, there are some pleasant ditties, especially the band’s big number towards the film’s finale.

While the music won’t be familiar, the story of the pleasure and pains of life on tour will. This particular comedy genre first hit the road with the 1984 cult hit ‘This is Spinal Tap’ (a satire of earlier, real tour documentaries) and probably ran out of petrol a decade or so later. ‘Killing Bono’ hasn’t refueled it. This rock opera follows a very well-traveled path, making obligatory pit stops at band in-fighting, sexual frisson, broken relationships, solidarity in adversity and the rest.

The final denouement, the encounter with Bono and as the McCormick brothers clash and then make up their differences, left me uninspired, though the threads of the story are competently tied together at the end.

Dialogue comments: If you’re British and of a certain age, you will regard writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais as gods. In the 70s and 80s they produced a series of legendary TV comedies: ‘Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?’, ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ and ‘Porridge’ and also penned (with Roddy Doyle) that worthy Irish-band movie classic of the early 90s, ‘The Commitments’.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen: age, it seems, hasn’t put lead in their pencils. OK, it could be the delivery but some of the dialogue, such as the record-label-owner’s-wife seduction scene, is far more wooden than horny. An Irish accent, however chirpy, can’t give life into a scene when the actor’s lines lack zest.

Film craft comments: While the leads have a way to go to fully hone their skills, the backroom boys have produced a competent presentation. The quality of its directing, lighting, sound and the like is shown by being largely unnoticeable, though the movie feels more ‘small screen’ than big (indeed, the director, Nick Hamm, has more experience in TV than film).

When ‘Killing Bono’ first hit the cinemas on April Fools’ Day, the press reaction was mixed. The Independent thought that it “has a marked tendency to drag when it needs to pick up the pace”, while The Daily Mail considered it “low on laughs”. “An amusing knockabout” said The Guardian and The Telegraph chipped in with “it’s quite a good laugh” (Neil McCormick is the Telegraph’s rock critic). On the emerald Isle, The Irish Independent thought the film was “remarkable mostly for being unremarkable” while The Belfast Telegraph called it “a rip-roaring yarn”. I guess you’ll just have to see it and make up your own mind.

A taste of the story: (hero failure Neil, listening to one of U2’s best known hits) “D’yer hear this song? I mean, is he taking the p*** now or what? He ‘still hasn’t found what he’s looking for?’ He has got everything he’s ever wanted”.

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