Thursday, 22 March 2018

Walk Like a Panther (2018)

Walk Like a Panther has been in something akin to development hell for some time now. I first heard about this story of a group of former wrestlers from the 1980s donning the lycra one more time some years ago in a newspaper article that announced it was a forthcoming TV sitcom that would feature the acting debut of Les Dawson's daughter Charlotte alongside Stephen Graham. In many ways it's a shame that its fate wasn't a TV series as that's exactly what this felt like.

It felt like watching Benidorm.

And I hate Benidorm.

It's really hard to see just how so much talent can be so pitifully served by one movie. The screenplay really is abysmal and you have to feel sorry for Jason Flemyng, who has just two scenes and the first of which requires him to vomit a ream of maudlin exposition before he keels over and dies. Meanwhile everyone else courageously battles through dialogue that is so densely written and tin-eared that I wonder if the writer/producer/director Dan Cadan has ever really heard anyone have a conversation in his life. Characterisation is also poor, with characters acting erratically from scene to scene just to push the plot forward or provide some attempt at humour.

It's also really hard to see actors who have previously impressed you seem to lose their ability to actually act. But that's exactly what Walk Like a Panther does to the likes of Graham, Flemyng, Dave Johns, Michael Socha, Christopher Fairbank, Neil Fitzmaurice, Robbie Gee, Julian Sands, Jill Halfpenny, Sue Johnston etc etc... the list goes on, because virtually every cast member here is a familiar and an often rather loved face. Unfortunately several of them appear to be acting in completely different films; Dave Johns brings the same sense of downtrodden poignancy he delivered in I, Daniel Blake whilst in contrast many others are setting their sights firmly on Benidorm like cartoonish comic caricatures. It's bizarre really. Worst of all, Walk Like a Panther will leave you wondering what the hell is happening to Stephen Graham's cinematic career. I can see why he probably wanted to do this, to show his lighter, comedic side, but he really should have got out when he saw the final script -  even Charlotte Dawson ultimately steered clear of this! Thank God Save Me came along to well, save him! Only Stephen Tompkinson seems acutely aware of the fact that he's in some kind of working class contemporary panto and delivers a boo hiss performance in keeping with his villainous role.  

The film's biggest crime though is that it is woefully unfunny. The trailer contains all of the film's jokes, so save yourself the bother and just watch that. I laughed just twice across the painfully long 110 minutes: the first was when Brian McCardie said that Julian Sands' character 'Looks like David Soul...if he'd've been a crack addict' and the other was when a cameo-ing Lena Heady's brewery boss Miss Winters (who is engaged to writer/producer/director Cadan in real life) arrives with the line 'Winters is coming' It's funny 'cos it's a Game of Thrones in-joke, y'see? Well, no one else in the cinema got it. And this was a crowd of annoying 50-somethings, one of whom said 'tea' out loud when one character brought in a tray of tea.

In it's defence, Walk Like a Panther benefits from being filmed in beautiful Yorkshire, and it does actually come alive a little in the final reel which showcases the wrestling that Cadan clearly wanted to pay tribute to. It's also still better than the deeply ill advised big screen revival of Dad's Army, but this remains a very poor British comedy. Mentioning this feeble effort in the same breath as The Full Monty is insulting.

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