There's a lively exuberance to this film that makes it enjoyable even though Kaye plays Cliff as a very unlikeable character. Not only does he look rather slimy, but his cocky arrogance makes it hard to cheer for him, even though he's often quite funny. This same adherence to tired stereotypes weakens other characters as well: Vaughn is confident and fast-talking yet a predictable bundle of nerves underneath; Evans barely registers at all since she's just the story's required love interest/character conflict. Only Cromwell manages to make the stiff and stubborn Ray slightly shaded in the film's final section; although the script doesn't have as much faith in the character as he does. Smith directs the film brightly, with an interesting mixture of provincial reality and over-the-top wackiness (such as the red pitch at the climactic match) and a not-very-original olde worlde versus young rabble-rouser plot, which is full of gaping holes. English audiences will thoroughly enjoy the cruel humour, culture-based hilarity and in-joke casting; everyone else will wonder why the film was made at all.
dir Mel Smith
scr Tim Firth
with Paul Kaye, James Cromwell, Vince Vaughn, Alice Evans, Johnny Vegas, Bernard Cribbins, Imelda Staunton, Mark Little, Kenneth Cranham, Vic Reeves, Tony Slattery
release UK 5.Sep.03, US 11.Feb.05
The player and his girl: Kaye and Evans
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