Gervais' "Cemetery" a witless disappointment

Fri Apr 16, 2010 1:11am EDT
 
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By Ray Bennett

LONDON (Hollywood Reporter) - Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have somehow contrived to leave behind all the acute observation and wit of their TV hits, "The Office" and "Extras," in "Cemetery Junction," their first feature film as writers and directors.

Gervais takes a secondary role and Merchant makes one brief appearance in the film, which tells of three restless lads itching to get away from a dull and predictable English suburban community in 1973.

Sadly, the film also is dull and predictable with the youthful rebels embarrassingly feeble when compared to such cinematic icons as James Dean, whose name is shamelessly invoked, or Albert Finney, whose character in "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" would bounce these guys like a basketball. Box office prospects appear slim on home territory, where the film opened Wednesday -- and even slimmer internationally.

Filmed without visual distinction, the story has familiar and tired characters and plot lines packaged cozily with any depth reliant upon what seasoned actors such as Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Anne Reid and the very promising young Felicity Jones, can bring to the supporting roles.

The trio of unlikely friends are Freddie (Christian Cooke), a likable kid who doesn't want to grow up to be like his factory worker dad (Gervais); Bruce (Tom Hughes), a cocky thug who doesn't want to grow up to be like his drunken layabout father (Francis Magee); and Snork (Jack Doolan), an overweight simpleton who doesn't want to grow up at all.

They live in a bland suburb called Cemetery Junction in the south of England they want desperately to escape. It's hard to see why because the filmmakers make it some kind of paradise for yobs where spraying obscenities on a massive real estate poster, smashing up a local club and assaulting a police office lead to just one night in the clink, thanks to the genial local police sergeant who thinks boys will be boys.

Freddie is ambitious, although his attempts to better himself by going to work at an insurance company don't appear promising. The boss, Mr. Kendrick (Fiennes), and his brightest spark Mike (Matthew Goode) are oily and unpleasant while Mrs. Kendrick (Watson) is long-suffering and beautiful daughter Julie (Jones) seems bound to marry Mike but also dreams of running away. It all plays out as you would expect. Worse, the film depicts families then as being entirely smug, ignorant and racist, while sneering at the folks at the insurance firm with no understanding, insight or appetite for something illuminating.

 
<p>Executive producers Ricky Gervais (L) and Stephen Merchant (R) participate in a panel for HBO's "The Ricky Gervais Show" during the HBO sessions of the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California January 14, 2010. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>