Let’s Be Cops – Film Review

“Who wants to be a cop?” asks a douchebag of a videogame designer at the start of Let’s Be Cops. He’s got a point, too. At a time when civil unrest is rife in Ferguson, Missouri following a fatal shooting and our own officers are being forced to face up to their failure in the Rotherham child abuse scandal, has the life of a police officer ever looked less desirable?

Unfortunately, inauspicious timing has not deterred the makers of Let’s Be Cops, a movie about two slackers pretending to uphold the law, who plough ahead with a hackneyed buddy cop comedy that’s less 21 Jump Street and more Cop Out without the star power.

Although New Girl actors Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. shine as a well-worked double act, that’s mostly because they are playing big screen versions of their sitcom characters. Johnson is Ryan, a directionless loser who is happy to live of the proceeds from a genital herpes ad, while Wayans plays Justin, a mild, unconfident game designer who can’t get his boss to take him seriously.

They’re old friends who moved to LA to follow their dreams but now realise they’ve somehow hit thirty and have absolutely nothing to show for it. All seems hopeless until they attend a costume party decked in the nifty navy blue of the LAPD and suddenly get the confidence boost they need when people mistake them for the real deal.

For a while this results in a series of hilarious shenanigans as our buddy non-cops soak up the respect and admiration of their peers before getting dragged into some real police work involving one naked perp, a hit of crystal meth and a whole lotta guns.

But just when you think the action is going to play out across one long night like a fast-paced comedy hybrid of Date Night and Grand Theft Auto, the movie gets stuck in a rut of its own as the limits of its one-note joke become glaringly obvious.

It doesn’t help that director Luke Greenfield decides to diverge from the main plot to set-up a second narrative thread between Ryan and the nerdy school boy he takes on as a protégé, which has absolutely no importance to the main story and ultimately only serves to dampen the tempo.

Likewise, stretching the story out over the course of several days strains the credulity of its premise to breaking point. In movie terms, its perfectly believable that two guys could be mistaken for cops and by a run of misfortune become embroiled in a violent criminal underworld, but here the characters have to make the decision to continue the charade, which frankly makes absolutely no sense – especially when they become the targets of a sinister Albanian drug cartel (because all Albanians are gangsters, right?).

The film also fails to serve its supporting cast, landing Andy Garcia with a bum role as a restrained crime lord and casting Rob Riggle in the all-American bozo role we’ve seen him play a hundred times before.

Its treatment of its female characters is even worse, using Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) as Justin’s pretty love interest whose role is to be groped by oily bad guy Mossi and get all flustered whenever she’s around a man in uniform. Meanwhile, Natasha Leggero is the horny resident of a stakeout location, just so that Ryan can get some female attention also.

Let’s Be Cops isn’t the worst comedy you will see this year but it is so lacking in imagination and invention, as proved in a ho-hum denouement which sees the characters end up exactly where you thought they would, that it is hard to enjoy and is instantly forgettable.

Alas, the movie has already made back more than twice its budget at the American box office making a sequel almost inevitable. Roll on Let’s Be Financial Advisors or whatever boring idea they come up with next.

Running time: 104 mins; Genre: Comedy/Action; Released: 27 August 2014;

Director: Luke Greenfield; Screenwriters: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas;

Starring: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr, Nina Dobrev, Andy Garcia.

Click here to watch the trailer for Let’s Be Cops


Doctor Who: Into The Dalek – TV Review

Although an essential rite of passage for any new Doctor to undertake, a Dalek episode of Doctor Who is a tricky challenge for a writer – in this case Phil Ford (The Waters of Mars) and Steven Moffat. After all, it is hard to find an exciting new take on a creature that first infested the show fifty years ago, especially one that, for all its deadly intentions, is regularly thwarted by a short flight of stairs.

While Ford and Moffat do their level best to give a fresh perspective on the Daleks, zapping miniaturized versions of the Doctor, Clara and a beleaguered squad of rebel soldiers into the heart of a defective Dalek, as antagonists they simply aren’t frightening anymore.

Yes, the Daleks exterminate in this episode – quite a bit, actually – unleashing a swarm of robotic antibodies that will vaporise anyone who tries to resist their advance. But despite all the endless killing, they are still just slow-moving, daft-looking metal dustbins that are easily defeated by a well placed plot device. And what’s scary about that?

Far more interesting in this episode is the Doctor’s continuing struggle with his new identity. Last week’s series opener focused on the new Time Lord’s doubts about his personality by way of uncovering an organ harvesting plot in Victorian London, and Into The Dalek takes a similar tact, exploring Capaldi’s dodgy morality by conducting an investigation into the trustworthiness of an apparently reformed Dalek.

Early on in this episode the Doctor asks Clara, “Am I a good man?” It’s a question that increasingly troubles him as he uncovers unsettling parallels with his greatest enemy. The writers have fun avoiding giving a definitive answer, teasing the audience with a series of morally dubious actions. The moment when the Doctor opts to sacrifice the life of a nameless soldier without showing even a flicker of remorse is arguably the darkest of Capaldi’s short tenure.

We also get to see Capaldi more settled in his performance as the Doctor, coming across as more confidant and assured compared to his enjoyably delirious work in Deep Breath. It has done little to lighten his mood, however, with his abrasive and snarky style causing him to quarrel with Clara and the squaddies he is burdened with – though he does throw in the occasional pun for his own amusement (“A bolt hole – actually a hole for a bolt”).

After the Doctor’s surprising and wrenching plea for help in Deep Breath, this week’s episode also helps us to understand just how important Clara is to Capaldi’s incarnation as he clings to his one last connection to his old self. Yet we are still waiting for Jenna Coleman to be given something substantial to do on her own – she spends most of the story trailing the Doctor’s well-tailored coattails – but the arrival of her new colleague Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), in brief scenes that bookend the story with tonally incongruous flirting, there is hope that we may finally get to see more of her character away from the Doctor.

Into the Dalek starts out with the potential to be a classic episode of Doctor Who but it can’t quite live up to such lofty standards. Those who complained about the slow pace and tempo of Capaldi’s debut are unlikely to be sated by his second outing, which once again disrupts the action for contemplative dialogue about morality and psychology.

Nevertheless, the enjoyment of Doctor Who hinges on the presence of the man inside the blue box and Peter Capaldi continues to shape his take on the character to great effect, turning all out notions of the modern Time Lord on their head with a fascinating and enthralling performance that makes this episode a must watch.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: Into The Dalek on iPlayer

Lucy – Film Review

Lucy may well be Luc Besson’s career in microcosm. A loopy rush of kinetic energy and psychedelic CGI that reminds you of his best work by evoking the barmy sense of wonder of The Fifth Element and the ass-whupping joy of Taken, only for all the fun to be spoiled by an attempt to make sense of its screwball science with ultra-helpings of philosophical nonsense – a move which speaks of the French-director’s recent decline. If it weren’t for a mesmerising star turn from Scarlett Johansson there really wouldn’t be much point in watching Lucy at all.

His opening ruse holds a lot of promise, dispensing with a rigorous setup to quickly introduce Johansson’s Lucy, a hard-partying American student with no clue of what to do with her life, whose week-long squeeze coaxes her into delivering a briefcase to a sketchy Taiwanese businessman.

A few slick cuts later and Lucy is trapped in a Korean gangster’s cell with a bag of CPH4 – a new designer drug poised to invade the streets of Europe – involuntarily stuffed in her stomach. A swift kick does the rest, splitting the bag and sending the drug surging into Lucy’s bloodstream. Her 10% brain capacity instantly races to 20% and – boom – a new superhero is born.

With Lucy’s brain function exploding exponentially, Besson is able to step on the gas with a series of enjoyably bonkers shootouts and car chases. The movie takes on the style of a sci-fi caper meets lurid revenge thriller as Lucy takes vengeance against her wacko-captors. In-between an operatic takedown of a penthouse full of sneering goons and the visceral carnage of a car chase through Paris, this involves breaking into a hospital and forcing a surgeon to remove the remaining CPH4 without anaesthetic as Lucy bids a fond farewell to the last of her emotions with a stirring call home.

By the time Lucy’s capacity has surpassed 50% she has started to resemble a grown-up Hanna with actual superpowers, as the laws of physics become her personal playthings. Now able to defeat a clutch of tooled-up bad guys with the flick of her finger, Lucy focuses her considerable cognitive power on finding the remaining CPH4, which she apparently needs to ease the transition to complete brain function. (How does she know this? She’s using a larger percentage of her brain! She knows things!).

Yet Besson can’t help but spoil all the fun by weighing in with philosophical mumblings on the meaning of life and consciousness. Morgan Freeman’s respected professor, who may as well be called Doctor Exposition, regularly interjects the action and slows the pace to deliver pretentious sermons on the theoretical possibilities of increased brain function in a bid to make the knowingly-hokum premise seem somehow relevant to the real world.

At 80% Lucy jacks into a higher state of consciousness, streaming through space and time as the movie veers into Terrence Malick territory by flicking through the evolution of the universe, pausing only to gawk at an raging dinosaur and to re-enact ET with an early ancestor, as she finally reaches transcendence. (Wait – that’s a different movie! She just reaches the fabled 100% and somehow scatters her being throughout the ether.)

The only one to emerge from this with any credit is Scarlett Johansson, whose stimulating star turn somehow keeps us enthralled even as she is given less and less to do, her character’s rapidly increasing brain function turning her from an ingenuous, vulnerable student to a blank-faced super-computer with an icy stare. The early thrills of this absurd sci-fi mash-up may be spoiled by its own existential blather but Johansson’s performance will have you hooked from start to finish.

Running time: 89 mins; Genre: Action/Sci-fi; Released: 22 August 2014;

Director: Luc Besson; Screenwriter: Luc Besson;

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked.

Click here to watch a trailer for Lucy

Doctor Who: Deep Breath – TV Review

Last night’s opening episode of Doctor Who’s eighth series was titled Deep Breath – an apt description given the breathless anticipation fans have experienced over the past 12 months as they await arrival of Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor.

Debates about the suitability of a 56-year-old Glaswegian for the role, the scandal of leaked scripts and footage – which prompted the #keepmespoilerfree campaign – and recent rumours that companion Jenna Coleman will be leaving the series have only made the wait more unbearable.

Thankfully, fans can now breath again safe in the knowledge that their patience has been rewarded with a triumphant introduction to the new Time Lord that zips along with a free-flowing pace and packs in everything you want from Doctor Who. The action is daring, the jokes are silly and the plot is an enthralling mix of sci-fi and Holmesian murder mystery refreshingly absent of timey-wimey brain teasers.

Moffat’s love of all things Sherlock shines through the entire episode as Capaldi’s Doctor is spat out into Victorian London dazed, delirious and unhinged, and once again ready to raise hell. The game is quickly afoot as the Doctor re-teams with everyone’s favourite same-sex, interspecies detective couple Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint (and of course their faithful comic relief, Strax) to investigate a mysterious spate of spontaneous combustions that will uncover a secret organ-harvesting ring hidden beneath the Thames.

Deep Breath also shows Moffat to be keen to explore the psychological impact of regeneration in more detail, as he douses the plot with themes of identity. From Madame Vastra’s pointed discussion about wearing a veil to be accepted to the Doctor challenging a robot infused with human parts for “replacing everything time and time again until there is nothing left of the original you”, it’s clear the Doctor has no idea who he is or what he is capable of.

This ambiguity creates an air of unpredictability not usually seen in the modern series but an open-ended final showdown leaves you in no doubt that we are dealing with an edgier Doctor who is more dangerous than he has been in a long while.

Life-long fan Capaldi slips effortlessly into the role and absolutely nails his first appearance, establishing the charismatic fierceness that makes the character his own whilst still possessing the mercurial enthusiasm for mystery and adventure that is an essential part of the character’s DNA. At the same time, the doubts he has about his own identity (“Who frowned me this face?”) lend the Doctor an intense vulnerability that softens his abrasive edges and ensures he is in no danger of alienating his fans.

The Doctor’s new personality also lays the foundations for a sparky, playfully tempestuous dynamic with companion Clara, which gives the episode its rhythm along with Moffat’s snappy script. It’s Coleman’s best work yet as a Clara who, angry, confused and grieving the loss of an old friend who has suddenly reappeared with a new face, no longer knows if she can trust the Doctor or if he even wants her anymore.

Capaldi isn’t the only new addition to the Doctor Who team, however. This episode is the first of two in the series to be directed by Ben Wheatley, the British director behind such weird, inventive and violent films as Kill List and A Field In England. Wheatley, as you’d expect, creates a suitably murky tone to match the Doctor’s new mood, and also equips himself well with the fantasy aspects of the sci-fi genre whilst also taking care not to let it overshadow a much needed sense of fun.

With Wheatley also set to direct next week’s episode, which boasts the return of the Doctor’s greatest foe, the Daleks, we can be sure that the eighth series will continue to push the show into creepier territory. “Am I a good man?” he asked Clara in a recently released trailer. It’s a question that remains thrillingly unanswered.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: Deep Breath on BBC iPlayer

Six reasons why season eight of Doctor Who could be the best one yet

The wait is almost over. On Saturday night Doctor Who (BBC One) will welcome the dawn of a new era as Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor takes control of the Tardis for the first time proper.

There’s a lot to be excited about, not least the chance to see how Capaldi’s incarnation shakes up a series that had underwhelmed with disjointed and confusing plots during Matt Smith’s final season as the eleventh Doctor.

By waving farewell to Smith and his loopy professor style, Moffat has afforded himself the opportunity to give the sci-fi favourite a regeneration of its own, rebuilding the show around the darker mood of Capaldi’s rebel Time Lord.

Here, then, are six reasons why season eight of Doctor Who could be the best one yet.

1) Capaldi will be a much fiercer, madder Doctor.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Matt Smith’s boyish Time Lord, with his zippy charisma and tortured old soul, but by the end his silly quips and blood-and-thunder speeches were starting to wear thin. As such, the casting of Capaldi, who, at 56, is the oldest actor to take on the role, should offer a welcome change of pace and tone.

Early indications are that Capaldi’s Doctor will be more alien than he has been in a long while, which must have fans salivating at the prospect of seeing a throwback to an edgier, enigmatic Doctor – particularly those who thought the character had become too close to his human companions (more on that later).

2) The Doctor will have some fun, though.

Doctor Who thrives on its reputation to thrill both adults and children-of-all-ages alike and to edge too far into darker territory would be to risk alienating a sizeable portion of the show’s fanbase.

The Doctor has always been a big kid at heart, filled with joy and curiosity about the universe and its endless possibilities, and more than anything I want to see Capaldi’s Doctor frolicking into danger in search of new adventures with the gleeful freedom of a man who, for the first time in a long while, is not haunted by the thought that he abandoned his entire race to extinction.

3) We’ll see more of Clara’s character.

Jenna Coleman’s first appearance as Clara at the beginning of season seven was well received by critics, only for the writers to fail to build on her enchanting sparkiness.

Instead “the impossible girl” became merely a plot device, a simple MPDG tasked with reawakening the Doctor’s passion for the universe by posing as a mystery to be solved.

With said mystery now finally uncovered – following the revelation that Clara scattered herself throughout the Doctor’s timeline to help him stay alive – season eight presents to perfect opportunity to flesh out her character.

The addition of Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink, Clara’s colleague at Coal Hill School and rumoured love interest, suggests we will be exploring more of Clara’s world away from the Doctor, which can only help Coleman show us that she is more than a bubbly character with snarky quips. Who knows, maybe she’ll even make us care about her involvement in the story.

4) There will be absolutely no flirting.

Capaldi has already insisted that there will be no “Papa-Nicole moments” in season eight, which is immensely pleasing, not least because the sight of a 56-year-old Doctor flirting with a woman half his age would look more than a little lecherous and creepy.

More importantly, while the updated series has in part been defined by sexual tension in the Tardis, hearing Matt Smith spout lustful lines like “impossible girl: a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt just a little bit too… tight,” always jarred with the character’s traditional asexual aversion to sex.

Besides, both Capaldi and Coleman have spoken about how their characters’ relationship has been thrown up in the air by the Doctor’s regeneration, promising a tense and unpredictable dynamic that sounds far more thrilling than a turgid will-they-won’t-they-please-god-no subplot.

5) It boasts some great guest stars.

Doctor Who has always attracted high-calibre guest stars to appear in front of the camera and season eight is no different with Keeley Hawes, Frank Skinner, Michael Smiley, Ben Miller and a host of other top thespians set to encounter the Doctor on his adventures throughout the season.

But it is behind the camera that the most intriguing guest appearance will be found. While a Peter Jackson-directed episode is as far in the distance as Middle Earth, the first two episodes of season eight will be helmed by Ben Wheatley, the British director behind such weird and violent films as Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England.

Quite how Wheatley will transpose his dark, woozy style into the pre-watershed world of the Doctor remains to be seen, but if he can pull it off, the first two episodes of the season could be a welcome return to the creepier territory of early Doctor Who.

6) Things will be kept simple this time.

Moffat’s three seasons as showrunner have thus far been defined by the timey-wimey, twisty-turny knots of the long-term story arc, from the cracks in time to the identity of River Song to the fabled planet of Trenzalore.

But while big questions and shock reveals enthralled at first, about halfway through Smith’s time as the Doctor, Moffat’s plots became too confusing and difficult to follow, with last year’s 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor particularly infuriating in the way it befuddled the mind.

Doctor Who has traditionally structured itself around stand-alone stories as the Doctor whisks his companion and the audience away to visit monsters in exciting new worlds before returning us safely to our humdrum homes, and Moffat has hinted at a return to such a format this season with a throughline that’s more emotional than plot driven.

If nothing else, a season of unconnected episodes should allow the guest directors and writers (including a Robin Hood-inspired episode by regular Who and Sherlock scribe, Mark Gatiss) push the boundaries of the Doctor Who style into weird and inventive new directions.

Click here to watch the trailer for season eight of Doctor Who

Suspects – TV Review

When the first series of frenetic crime drama Suspects first ran on Channel 5 earlier this year (the channel’s first original drama for eight years), it wasn’t much of an enticing prospect. Did we really need yet another dour police procedural? Yet the semi-improvised series, which follows three London CID officers led by DCI Martha Maloney (Fey Ripley), was not the failure many predicted. Instead it rejuvenated the genre with its brisk, no-frills approach, drawing an overwhelmingly positive response from critics in the process.

Now it’s back for a second run of five episodes, and showing no signs of letting its midseason hiatus dampen the tempo. Last night’s episode, the first of a two-parter, cut straight to the action as police found barrister Jonathan Moxton in his home with a severe head injury, his wrists bound with a belt and a pair of his wife’s knickers stuffed in his mouth. Suspicion immediately falls on Saul, a paranoid schizophrenic found covered in blood at the crime scene, but is he really the killer or is DS Weston’s past clouding his judgement?

What separates the series out is its grubby, fly-on-the-wall filming style. The dialogue is part improvisational – the cast working from a detailed document rather than a traditional script – and this gives exchanges an exciting air of unpredictability as the performers react to swiftly changing circumstances. Such rapid-fire delivery of information not only livens up what could be stodgy exposition, it also makes the plot more difficult to follow, which is exactly how you would imagine a real police investigation to be.

Throw in lighting that appears to be sourced exclusively from anaemic desk lamps, and the squeaks and rumbles of a passing Underground train drowning out the actors’ voices, and the line between fiction and reality blurs one step closer.

Despite the potential for the series’ fast-paced editing style and absence of a script to be a barrier to connecting with these characters, such is the brilliance of the performances here that their personalities still shine through. Fey Ripley gives a controlled, level-headed performance as experienced investigator DCI Bellamy, Damien Maloney’s Jack Weston is a blunt-but-driven sergeant, and Clare-Hope Ashitey cuts an earnest and frustrated figure as wide-eyed rookie DC Charlie Steele.

Meanwhile, Dominic Power (Emmerdale) is the pick of the week’s guest performers (Eastenders’s Charlie Brooks and In The Flesh’s Luke Newberry also appear), perfectly underplaying a confused, agitated suspect who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Although the fast-paced editing style at times becomes a distraction, the director seemingly afraid of sticking with the shot for more than a few seconds lest things start to look a bit boring, Suspects continues to be one of the most original and unsettlingly believable dramas in recent memory. It’s gritty, off-the-cuff style hauling the police procedural into the 21st Century world of scripted-reality.

Click here to watch the trailer for Suspects

The Inbetweeners 2 – Movie Review

Although originally intended as an unambiguous farewell to the television series, the unprecedented popularity and box office success of The Inbetweeners Movie – which set the record for the biggest opening weekend for a comedy film in the UK – made it inevitable that the quartet would be back for another dose of cringey mishaps and clunge-related hilarity.

Yet there’s no evidence of Damon Beesley and Iain Morris – who also step behind the camera to direct for the first time – playing it safe by throwing out a greatest hits parade and coasting on the franchise’s massive fanbase to ensure financial success. In fact, the writers and performers are more outrageous than ever, reuniting the Pussay Patrol to deliver one of the funniest films of the year.

While the first movie followed the Inbetweeners’ awkward misadventures on their first holiday abroad sans parental guidance, The Inbetweeners 2 takes aim at the pretentious middle classes who embark on life-affirming gap years and talk about their spiritual awakenings while an absolute weapon plays guitar badly around a campfire.

After a slow and clunky start that seeks to establish Will and Simon’s miserable experiences of uni life and reintroduce Jay as a legendary night club DJ stroke millionaire playboy who claims to have had a threesome with every Aussie bar Rolf Harris, the movie finally clicks into gear when Will, Simon and Neil decide to jet off to join Jay in Australia. Why is it called Down Under? “Because that’s where your face spends most of the time,” explains perpetual bullshitter Jay upon his friends’ arrival.

From then on the jokes come thick and fast, the cast executing gross-out gags, smutty one-liners and excruciatingly awkward encounters with precision as Beesley and Morris continue to prise major lolz from the crapness of the average teenage experience.

But amidst all the comic exaggerations, there’s a genuine resonance with the four friends that makes the characters so appealing. The experience of clinging to adolescent relationships in the face of the overwhelming circumstances of university is one to which many twentysomethings can relate. Six years on from their first appearance on E4 and these characters still find a way to make you feel less ashamed of your own humiliating adolescence.

Simon Bird continues to be the ostensible star of proceedings and as such gets most to do as delusional nerd Will Mackenzie, whose pursuit of flirty backpacker Katie (Emily Berrington), a primary school crush who also happens to be travelling through Australia, quickly turns into extreme stalking, complete with a strangled rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Not that the remaining trio are left to fend for themselves as Beesley and Morris supply them with plenty to do. Thompson’s impetuous romantic Simon desperately tries to escape his psychotic girlfriend Lucy (Tamla Kari), Buckley once again makes the endearing pain shine through Jay’s defensive bravado, and Harrison is always happy to provide gormless comic relief as Neil gets his balls cleansed by a canine and defecates on a water slide in two of the film’s funniest moments.

The movie can’t quite sustain the laughs through to the end as a drawn out trip to the Outback never finds a pay-off and it lacks the sense of finality that made the first film such as fulfilling experience as the boys return home in pretty much the same state as when they left. Yet it is a surprisingly successful return that achieves the all-to-rare feat of being funnier than the first through fearless writing and impressive performances. If this is to be their final farewell – and all involved insist it will be – then it is a fitting way to bring one of this generation’s greatest comic creations to a close.

Running time: 96 mins; Genre: Comedy; Released: 6 August 2014;

Directors: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris; Screenwriters: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris;

StarringSimon Bird, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, James Buckley, Emily Berrington.

Click here to watch the trailer for The Inbetweeners 2