1 item from 2004
A self-consciously bittersweet comedy, "The Martins" contains a fair amount of laughs, but these are largely negated by an overriding sense that the film is not quite the dark social comedy it thinks it is. The key performances are excellent -- Lee Evans ("Mouse Hunt", "There's Something About Mary") never better and Kathy Burke confirming her "national treasure" status in British cinema -- but tyro writer-director Tony Grounds can't make the project work.
The film could be a cult success in the United Kingdom but might prove a tough proposition to release overseas. The social characterizations are very English, the language consistently strong and the humor not strong enough. "Martins" could well find a home on video shelves.
The film's premise is quite simple: The Martins are a suburban family from hell. Robert (Evans) is an unemployed dreamer who thinks his great escape will come from winning newspaper competitions. He is adored by wife Angie (Burke). The couple have a heavily pregnant 14-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son who can't deal with school. And Angie's tartly dressed mother lives just across the road with a mission to make her son-in-law's life miserable.
One morning, as Robert is cooking bacon on an improvised barbecue in the garden (involving throwing tires onto a fire), his neighbor starts shooting water at the fire. Robert pulls a gun and frightens off the neighbor. He explains to his angry wife that he is just keeping the weapon for a friend.
Things then spiral downward: Robert pulls the gun on son Little Bob's teacher and later uses it to threaten the editor of the local newspaper, which had been staging a competition with a dream holiday as the main prize.
Finally, Robert uses to gun to hold up the elderly couple who won the prize (nice cameo performances by Frank Finlay and Barbara Leigh Hunt), steals their ticket to the "dream holiday" (which turns out to be a trip to a cottage on the Isle of Man) and convinces his family that he won the competition and is taking them away. With the police on their trail, they head up the motorway from London to take a ferry to the Isle of Man, where eventually things come to a head with a blazing row between Robert and Angie, their daughter giving birth and the arrival of armed police.
The idea of a comedy built around a supremely dysfunctional family is appealing -- look at the success of Australian film "The Castle". But Grounds is determined to make the characters as unappealing as possible, so it's hard to sympathize with a man who thinks the world owes him everything and, when it doesn't come through, starts waving a gun at innocent people.
That being said, Evans forsakes his usual physical comedy to give a subtle, at times endearing performance as a common man pushed to his edge. Burke is great as the wife who loves him for his strengths -- compassion for his family and general good intentions -- but eventually despairs of his weaknesses. There is a deliriously enjoyable cameo by tough-guy actor Ray Winstone as a children's entertainer who goes berserk at Robert when he tries to persuade him to perform at Little Bob's birthday party.
Grounds has a good reputation from British television, where he scripted the series "Births, Marriages and Deaths". It was a brave move by the producers of "Martins" to let him take on directing chores, but sadly it hasn't paid off. There is a lot of talent there, though, and his will be a career worth following.
Icon Entertainment International
Tiger Aspect Pictures and Icon Prods.
Screenwriter-director: Tony Grounds
Executive producers: Peter Bennett-Jones, Paul Tucker, Ralph Kamp, Steve Christian
Director of photography: David Johnson
Production designer: Michael Carlin
Costume designer: Stewart Meachem
Editor: Robin Sales
Music: Richard Hartley
Robert Martin: Lee Evans
Angie Martin: Kathy Burke
Little Bob: Eric Byrne
Katie: Terri Dumont
Anthea: Linda Bassett
DI Tony Branch: Jack Shepherd
PC Alex: Lennie James
Running time -- 86 minutes
No MPAA rating
1 item from 2004
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