Our friend Callum Petch threw his critical mind into the fray when volunteering to review The Harry Hill Movie, which he describes as “exactly as bad as it looks, though it’s not due to a lack of trying”.
Have you ever felt yourself physically age? Like, have you ever been saddled with a task so monotonous, your mind drifts off elsewhere and it eventually settles on just counting off the minutes until you’re free of whatever you’re doing? That happens to me quite a fair bit; sometimes due to my being a natural daydreamer but also because I watch a lot of bad movies. Oftentimes, I don’t have a choice in the matter and such a mind drift only occurs when a film is either too dull or too bad for me to verbally or mentally (if I’m in the cinema, come on, I’m not a dick) insult. But, when it does happen, it is, for me, the ultimate sign of a film completely failing. This is why I class The Sweeney (2012) or Keith Lemon: The Film as worse films than The Last Airbender or Branded. Those last two are incompetently made, ridiculous, poorly-acted, confusing pieces of trash… but they’re entertaining pieces of trash, the kind that I can sit and laugh at or attempt amateur Mystery Science Theatre 3000 sessions with. The first two are terrible films and they’re boring; a lethal combination.
When watching The Harry Hill Movie, that sense of physically feeling the time slip away from me arrived in full force some 40 minutes, if that, into the movie. But this time, something was different. I couldn’t just feel the minutes slipping away into ether. I could feel every individual second. Every single one of them, getting away from me, reminding me that I voluntarily chose to spend 2 hours of my life sat in a cinema screen with the intention of watching The Harry Hill Movie. I sank further and further into my seat. I got close to dosing off, the first time that would have ever happened to me at a film in the cinema. And it never felt like it was going to end! It kept going on and on and on. I started to fear that it really was going to run forever! That I had died at some point the night before and had walked into my own circle of Hell; forced to, for all eternity, watch a comedy that’s too boring to insult and is nowhere near as passable as it’s trying to be.
In other words: The Harry Hill Movie sucks balls.
I feel like I should note, however, that it can’t be faulted for trying. Whereas last year’s similarly awful and unnecessary Keith Lemon: The Film was content to just phone it in for 90 straight bloody minutes with a script that seemed happy to just throw in a bunch of pop culture references (not jokes, references) and celebrity cameos before calling it a night, Harry Hill is trying to be funny. Specifically, it’s trying to be a live-action cartoon, and even more specifically it’s trying to be a cross between Dick Dastardly/Muttley and Sam Sheepdog/Ralph Wolf. Harry (himself, kind of, there’s not really much of a fourth wall in this film) and his grandmother (Julie Walters) are on a road trip to Blackpool with Harry’s dying hamster Abu (voiced by Johnny Vegas because, presumably, everybody talented and likable was sick that day), pursued by Harry’s evil twin brother (Matt Lucas) and his incompetent henchmen (one of which is a visibly-desperate-to-make-this-material-work Simon Bird) because Harry’s twin wants to kidnap Abu for… reasons. Illogical, stupid, Macguffin-based reasons.
It’s silly and out-there yet family-friendly and gives each scene a clear structure. Unfortunately, that structure is all the film has. Harry and co. will turn up somewhere, the incompetent henchmen will attempt to kidnap the hamster whilst Harry and his grandmother act completely oblivious to whatever’s going on, the henchmen will fail because they’re incompetent and then it’s off to the next area to do it all again. It gets old fast because the film almost never switches up that structure and, even when the novelty is there, there are no funny jokes here.
Because, again, The Harry Hill Movie is trying to make people laugh. There are jokes here, with set-ups and punch-lines of the verbal and physical nature, which is more than I can say for, say, The Hangover Part III. It’s just that none of them are funny. Either the timing is off, or the delivery is wrong, or somebody in the film clearly explains the joke when it didn’t need to be explained, or the joke goes on for way, way too long (there’s a section where Abu gets exposed to radioactive waves and a Kaiju parody gets underway… for 4 whole minutes), or the joke wasn’t funny to begin with, or the film uses a pop culture reference as its punch-line and instantly dates itself by two years (when told that he’s going to die, Abu shouts “I can’t die! I just got a year’s subscription to Netflix!”) or four years (one of the minions’ “impeccable disguises” is a Justin Bieber costume where he talks in a high-pitched falsetto), or it’s delivered by Johnny Vegas, but none of the jokes are funny. I think I laughed once (when Harry points out a plot hole with regards to the minions) and smirked once (when one of the minions puts scary music on the stereo before attempting to grab Abu). For a 90 minute comedy, that’s practically a death sentence.
It’s quite mean-spirited at points, too. In the opening, Harry blows up a family of chickens who are trying to kill him (no, I don’t know why and, quite honestly, my brain feels a lot nicer when it’s not trying to make sense of this film) and throws two eggs to his grandma with the notice that they’ll have those for breakfast. 80% of the interactions between Harry and his gran are him insisting that she has move out from his place and live in a retirement home (the other 20%, because I know you’re curious, is the pair of them acting oblivious in order for Abu’s physical hi-jinks to ensue). There are some quick easy jokes about dwarfism, priests and nuns getting it on with one another and, and I am not kidding here, inter-species relations. These moments are rare, but they stick out when they do occur and are endemic of a film with serious identity issues. It tries to work on all levels for all of the family, but instead of just double-coding a bunch of jokes, it clumsily switches between age groups for targeted gags. One moment, Abu is projectile vomiting, for the kids; the next he’s being lined up for execution, for the teenagers; the next, Harry’s gran notes that she meant to leave Harry to the wolves instead of his twin because she couldn’t raise two children and “it’s what any sensible granny would do”, for the adults.
The performers don’t do much to elevate the material, either. Excepting Simon Bird (who is trying really, really, really, really hard to make any bit of his material work), everybody is either sleepwalking, inconsequential or, most damningly, abandoning all subtlety in favour of mugging for the camera as much as is humanly possible. Hill, in particular, is really bad at this, there are times when he acts more like Kevin Bishop’s impression of Harry Hill than anything resembling a supposedly gifted comic actor. Matt Lucas makes zero impression as the villain because, well, he doesn’t do anything. Jim Broadbent cross-dresses to play a cleaning lady because… it’s Jim Broadbent cross-dressing and that’s funny? Julian Barratt shows up in one of the film’s stupider plot turns and promptly does absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even sing! That’s just purposeful wasting of talent, right there!
Oh, one other thing: at points the film decides that it’s going to be a musical. Not once does a musical number impact on the plot or have a reason for its existence (although there is one number which gets a lampshade thrown on its existence, as if the film thinks that doing so justifies doing the number and, spoiler alert, it doesn’t). There’s a Les Misérables style ballad (and you know that it’s in the style of Les Misérables because Harry even says so just before it starts) that threatens to turn into a musical equivalent of his infamous “ear cataracts” segment from TV Burp. None of the songs are funny, unless you’re one of those people who falls out of their chair laughing at the sight of Julie Walters rapping, and the song choices (which are or are not original tracks depending on… reasons, I don’t have an answer, in all honesty) often make no sense. Matt Lucas sings “Nutbush City Limits” early on for literally no reason at all. Unless the joke is just “IT’S MATT LUCAS SINGING NUTBUSH CITY LIMITS” which, come to think of it, is likely the case. There’s only one half-decent song and that’s the one with The Magic Numbers who, in this film, are now running a B&B and a) yes, that is the whole joke and b) I’m just as surprised as you are that they’re still going, let alone that anybody even remembers them enough for this to qualify as a “joke”.
Despite all of my pre-release apprehension, I did not go into The Harry Hill Movie wanting to hate it. I never go into a film wanting to hate it. Sometimes I go in expecting to hate a film, but never wanting to hate a film. What good does that do me? I might as well light my £8 on fire. Unfortunately, The Harry Hill Movie did precisely nothing to keep me from hating it. In addition to a laundry list of other problems (another being that, despite my personal appreciation at the amount of puppetry in this film, Abu never looks cute, just terrifying and creepy), it commits the Comedy Film sin of not being funny and the Bad Movie sin of being too boring to make fun of or get angry at. I felt every single one of those 5,280 seconds slip by me and I hope to the Maker that I don’t get that feeling again for a long while.
I saw this so you don’t have to. Stay well clear.
Callum Petch won’t get much closer until he sacrifices it all. He normally writes about movies at Screened.com (site link). Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and read his gaming column Petchulant over at GameSparked!