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MOVIE REVIEWS : Greener Pastures May Lie Ahead for Britain's 'Supergrass' Comics

February 05, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

In recent years, we have tended to place British comedy groups in the lineage of the Goons, those madcap '50s radio buffoons whose spirit seemed reborn in Monty Python--with Beyond the Fringe and the Beatles (on film) as surreal stops along the way. But, judging by "The Supergrass" (selected theaters), there are other comic veins for younger performers to mine.

The group responsible for this film--a cabaret-TV gang called the Comic Strip that includes writer-director-actor Peter Richardson, star comedian Adrian Edmondson and comics Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Nigel Planer--has avoided the surreal, the satiric and the consciously goonish. Instead, they have produced a comedy of character, disguised as a psychological crime melodrama.

The film doesn't succeed; it's too bleak for a comedy, too buoyant for a Graham Green-like thriller. But the Comic Strip, and especially Richardson and Edmondson, shows promise.

You might surmise that the title "Supergrass" refers to some especially potent new strain of marijuana. But supergrass, it seems, is British slang for an informant; the one here is a nincompoop named Dennis (Edmondson), who ineptly tries to seduce the unencouraging Andrea (Dawn French), by bragging of his vast international crime connections and the huge heroin drop he's been hired to facilitate at a little British seacoast town.

No such drop exists. But Dennis has the misfortune to be overheard at the pub by a couple of local cops, and the worse misfortune of falling into the hands of a religiously fanatical inspector, who sees him as a ticket to redemption. Soon Dennis, this jabbering, tale-telling cretin, his face gleaming in seraphic idiocy, is on his way to the coast for a holiday, with one cop disguised as his girlfriend, and another, her actual lover, their grumbling chaperon. Fireworks, and possibly a real heroin drop, are sure to follow.

Principal creator Richardson is slim and dour. His taciturn, lovelorn cop broods and boils. Edmondson is a toothier fellow whose gleaming, bumptious, Candide-esque good spirits recall a mix of Stan Laurel, Michael Crawford and Ian Carmichael. The two women, Saunders and French, are a pair of laconic tough-talkers with hilariously pragmatic, low-key attitudes toward the masculine flights of fancy bedeviling them. And, as usual, Robbie Coltrane--a non-Comic Stripper playing a sadistic and resentful narc--burns an intense hole through the movie.

Richardson has directed it in a tightly framed, gristly manner that's more suitable for a thriller, and he's inserted scenes of psychological torment that play oddly against the comedy. "The Supergrass," (MPAA rated R, for sex, nudity, language) somehow, doesn't seem shaped properly; there's too much humming beneath its bonnet. Yet, there seems talent to spare here. The Comic Strip troupe is made up basically of people in their 20s and early 30s; a few more films down the line, they might bear far funnier fruit.

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