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|Beyond the Pole
dir David L Williams
scr Neil Warhurst, David L Williams
prd Andrew J Curtis, David L Williams
with Stephen Mangan, Rhys Thomas, Helen Baxendale, Mark Benton, Rosie Cavaliero, Alexander Skarsgard, Lars Arentz-Hansen, Clive Russell, Patrick Baladi, Zoe Telford, Elizabeth Croft, Kirsty Wark
release US Oct.09 flff, UK 12.Feb.10
Top of the world: Mangan, Thomas, Skarsgard and Arentz-Hansen
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With a smart script and an enjoyably manic premise, this British adventure comedy gets off to a great start. But the story wobbles badly in the third act, and loses its audience as it gets both contrived and maudlin.
The uptight Mark (Mangan) and laid-back Brian (Thomas) are university mates who decide to set a world record for the first carbon-neutral, organic, vegetarian, unassisted trek to the North Pole. They set off with their cameraman (Russell), while smiley pal Graham (Benton), Brian's girlfriend Sandra (Cavaleiro) and TV producer Becky (Baxendale) track their progress back home. But they're unprepared to the challenge, which gets trickier when they meet a pair of Norwegians (Skarsgard and Arentz-Hansen) who look likely to steal their record. And then there are the polar bears.
The film's opening scenes feature hilariously freeform dialog that sharply establishes the characters. Mark's continual ranting about global warming is amusing, as is Brian's oblivious cheerfulness. And even when things start to go wrong on the icepack, the shift to blacker comedy is effective. So it's extremely frustrating to watch as the screenwriters seem to run out of ideas, allowing the story to get mopey and pointless. As a result, their central message (about the importance of reversing climate change) is badly undermined.
But the film is almost worth seeing for the engaging first two-thirds, which are lively and clever, mixing sparky gags with silly slapstick. Mangan and Thomas make a superb duo, and their banter has the thrill of improvisation to it, which is why the strained plotting weakens it so badly. Meanwhile, Williams shoots and edits the film with a lot of witty touches, using the glorious setting (it was filmed in Greenland) and the mock-doc form to fine effect. Although a Blair Witch-style segment is pretty annoying.
Essentially, as long as the film is having fun with its premise and characters, we are enjoying it as well. But as the plot begins to get serious, it goes off the rails. The writers indulge in a few extremely lazy contrivances as well as over-the-top nastiness. So when things turn preachy, they lose us completely.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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