|Index||3 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On paper, Outside Bet looked a sure fire hit. A group of redundancy haunted friends clubbing together to buy a racehorse with a heart warming love story thrown in and a blatant yet shameless 80s soundtrack, similarities with The Full Monty were inescapable. Yet the end result is a hollow, uneven mish mash of cliché and disbelief, and the film cannot escape the confines of it's cardboard cut out characters. There is plenty of charm throughout and the picture desperately wants to be liked perhaps too desperately but even if you view this as a modern fairy tale and don't worry about the glaring horse racing inaccuracies, there are still numerous scenes that are just too contrived to be believable. Firstly, a complete stranger enters the local pub and asks the regulars if they want to buy a racehorse that he tells them is convinced is good (try walking into a pub and asking if anyone wants to buy a really poor racehorse) whilst at the same time sheepishly admitting that there may well be some illegality surrounding the ownership of the equine. Yet despite this main character Mark (Calum NcNab) goes along to see the animal which seems to be trained in an open field on a rugby pitch and after seeing it jump over a couple of poles is convinced he's looking at a winner. Move over Doctor Dolittle. Whilst there is a scene that attempts to acknowledge that a racehorse also costs much more than just an initial outlay (training fees, entry fees etc.) Mark reminds us that on the credit side, there is of course, prize money. No matter that British horseracing (especially in the 1980s) had some of lowest prize money in Europe and that virtually 80 per cent of racehorse owners suffered annual losses on having a horse in training (which remains the case today). But again, perhaps the racing side of the film is not meant to be taken seriously, and is just a backdrop to character development even though this isn't exactly forthcoming. Maybe The Full Monty and Brassed Off have a lot to answer for character dimension these days seems to be about having a few scenes where they talk about their past and we learn about some of their intricate details (Bob Hoskins and wife Rita Tushingham saving up for a caravan for example) and away we go. There is also a major attempt to bring some gritty despair into the plot the men are linked by employment in the typesetting / printing industry and the Wapping strikes that blighted this era on the coat tails of the miners dispute means most of the characters are facing redundancy and an uncertain financial future. But this makes the fact that they all eventually cough up £1000 each to own a share in the horse (ridiculously called The Mumper) even more preposterous. I don't know of anybody facing a financial straightjacket that would willingly plough a huge sum of money into a racehorse even if central character Mark is convincing and tries to 'talk them into it'. Then there is the racecourse action. The races themselves look like caricatures of Victorian races and the film suffers from the same fate as virtually all other British flicks that attempt to show sport it just isn't realistic. The Mumper's second race sparks even more hilarity for the viewer as virtually all of the syndicate take out their life savings to have a bet on the horse. They gleefully hand over their money without a care in the world. And let's not forget The Mumper is a 20/1 shot so the likelihood of any return on such massive bets would be very low indeed. To add insult to injury, the friendly bookie happily takes the bet despite faced with a quarter of a million pounds payout he grins like a cheeky rogue and doesn't bat an eyelid. I can tell you not one British bookmaker would accept a bet like that at those odds. It's a shame because the film should have been much better with a sterling cast of the likes of Hoskins, Jenny Agutter, Dudley Dutton and Phil Davis, we should have been lauding this as a whimsical British success story, but they are underused and that points straight to a weak script and a story not properly fleshed out. The tragic side issue is that Hoskins of course would retire from acting due to illness shortly after the release of this film, and although he is subdued in places, he still remains as watchable as ever. Like a friendly puppy, this film is impossible to hate because it clearly has a desire to please, but like all loving puppies, wait and see how you feel when you furniture is chewed up and your carpet ruined. It tries to drag too many feelgood elements together that have worked so well for other filmmakers, without having an identity of its own.
I was curious to see this film, as sadly it seems it will be Bob Hoskins swansong, and he is here as always, very watchable but ultimately can't save this earnest and well meaning but disappointing picture. The main plot revolves around a group of soon to be out of work print workers who come together to buy a racehorse, because one of them has a gut feeling it's a winner. I don't know a huge amount about the horse racing world, bets and bookies, so it didn't bother me so much that those scenes seemed unrealistic as another reviewer pointed out, what's more important to me is the story. The central thread is the bond between a father (Phil Davis, excellent without even trying) and son (Calum McNab), and when the father is dying of cancer he regrets not taking enough risks for his family to get them a better life (Even though he was a gambler most of his life)so his son takes a risk on buying a racehorse from a bloke in a pub, so far so improbable. Thrown into this mix are an assorted bunch of characters from the print works at the never named newspaper, who also invest in the horse despite all being on the verge of redundancy. Of these only rising star Jason Maza ('I always look hard') and Adam Deacon (Nice to see him getting away from the rude boy lad role) stand out, the rest of them really adding nothing to the plot or story while the other weaker actors really stand out as a distraction and some of their roles really should have been written out. With the huge amount of young British female actresses to choose from, it seems incredible that such poor choices were made in some of the younger women that were cast. Only the older talent (Agutter and Tushingam) hold their ground here. Other names add gravitas to the proceedings here and there including Perry Benson and Vincent Regan who does his able best but his character is so inconsequential he may well not have been there and obviously did the cameo as a favour - be that as it may, at least give him some good dialogue and purpose. Although this is set in the 80's against the backdrop of the printing strikes in Wapping, this doesn't add much drama to the central theme and the production design seemed to alternate between early 1970s and 1980s at random intervals. Hoskins is revealed to have a shady past but no one seems to mind. The script is weak too, some characters have the odd good line, but the film is no where near as funny as it thinks it is nor as moving as it should be. The strongest scenes are really those between father and son, as the spectre of death looms over them, these moments are among the most moving in the film where as a subplot around the central character being too scared to ask out the girl he really loves while he confidently sleeps with the femme fatale doesn't ring true at all. Though I will give Calum McNab credit for his speech at the funeral scene, he really isn't a strong enough actor yet to carry a film. Another problem is the film's opening, it lacks any punch at all, and for the first twenty minutes your left wondering where its all going. A whole plethora of characters are introduced without any of them seeming important to the main plot other than they are there to invest money. Director Sacha Bennett has been given a credit for additional material on the film which suggests to me he was either unhappy with the script as presented or he felt that it really needed a re-write and he would have been correct. I watched this because I will support British Independent film but the lesson here is get the script right first before you shoot because this is a mess and reeks of 'Too Many Cooks'. There could have been a charming little film here and despite all of its flaws it nearly succeeds but fails at the finish line for me not because of budget but because of the screenplay, which is a shame not least of all for Bob Hoskins.
Movies are so niche these days. Each new release is blinkered to focus on a very specific audience. Rarely do you find a film that you can take your whole family to without feeling that you stooped to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to please and suit them all. Problem solved with the release of "Outside Bet." Sacha Bennett ably directs assured performances from familiar faces including Bob Hoskins, Jenny Agutter, Phil Davis, as well as from new talents Emily Attack and Calum MacNab in a funny, touching, and at the finish, cheering comedy. Set in the '80's, when Wapping replaced Fleet Street in one fell swoop, a group of redundant print-workers buy a racehorse. The result is thoroughly enjoyable; a very likable film with some truly priceless moments. An "Outside Bet" is just what we all need right now. Go to the cinema and put your money on it. It's a winner!
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