A BUNCH OF AMATEURS
Jefferson Steel (Burt Reynolds) is an insufferable, out-of-work, ageing Hollywood action hero, desperate to revive his flagging career as well as improve his relationship with his aspiring actress daughter Amanda (Camilla Arfwedson). When Jefferson threatens to fire his incompetent LA agent Charlie (Charles Durning) unless he finds him a lead role, Jefferson is sent to England to play King Lear at Stratford. Little does Jefferson know that he is not playing the role of a lifetime in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at Shakespeare's birthplace, but in an amateur dramatic society in the Suffolk's Stratford St John.
Review by Louise Keller:
Overcooked to the point of being burnt, this total misfire in which Burt Reynolds' ageing has-been Hollywood actor finds himself in an amateur production of King Lear in England, is a fish-out-of-water comedy gone badly wrong. The plot is ploddingly predictable as Reynolds' big-noting Jefferson throws tantrums to the eager-to-please theatre troupe before finding humility and a new lease of life. But far worse than the predictability is the heavy-handedness and charmless way in which the film is directed. Reynolds shows he is a good sport at least, allowing himself to be portrayed as a creaky, cardboard cut-out but it's a sad state of affairs to see the talented Derek Jacobi face down in mud in the pig sty and the wonderful Imelda Staunton over-directed as the B&B owner whose heart has a flutter.
The trouble is, everything falls flat. When we first meet Reynold's Jefferson, he comes face to face with rejection: the public doesn't like him anymore and he is mistaken for successful actors like Sean Connery, Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford. Worse still, his daughter Amanda (Camilla Arfwedson) won't speak to him. The attempted humorous banter, like Imelda Staunton's food-in-mouth attempt to reassure him he doesn't look old ('You look young - especially in your old movies') never gels and when he finds himself with no mini-bar, no room service, no phone signal and a loo down the hall, it is all too predictable. Even Jefferson's demands to improve the lousy British weather falls flat.
The idea to create a subplot involving the brewer-sponsor who laughs at his own jokes, his leggy blonde fitness instructor wife and a media frenzy is perhaps the best idea of the film, and there are some nice moments when we see the amateur actors rehearsing as they go about their daily work stacking shelves, curling hair, feeding the pigs and walking from school. The fact that the film was screened for the Queen and Prince Philip at a Royal Film Performance who liked it so much they wanted a copy to show the family might impress Royal Watchers, but discerning audiences should demand more from their entertainment.
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A BUNCH OF AMATEURS (M)
CAST: Burt Reynolds, Imelda Staunton, Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond, Camilla Arfwedson, Charles Durning
PRODUCER: David Parfitt
DIRECTOR: Andy Cadiff
SCRIPT: Jonathan Gershfield & John Ross and Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ashley Rowe
EDITOR: Mark Thornton
MUSIC: Christian Henson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melanie Allen
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 8, 2009