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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 10.29.09] United Kingdom movie review comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Paul King
Writers: Paul King
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

British television comedy hasn't got a great track record when it comes to graduating to the film theatre, and some of the best shows – Rising Damp, Bottom, The League of Gentlemen – have translated into truly awful films. When Edgar Wright made Shaun of the Dead he took a different approach to his predecessors, using only a handful of elements from his sitcom Spaced to build new characters, setting and story. Paul King has done the same with Bunny and the Bull, which while no-where near as good as Wright's zombie comedy classic is still a lot better than we've come to expect from the usual tawdry journey from small to big screen.

Paul King directs The Mighty Boosh, which when it first aired in 2004 was a welcome breath of fresh air in a TV comedy market dominated by negativity, the excruciating schadenfreude of The Office and misanthropy of Little Britain setting a pretty depressing tone. The Mighty Boosh is brightly-coloured, surreal and playful, employing techniques like animation and song-and-dance numbers unseen in British comedy in years. The former is employed brilliantly in Bunny and the Bull, the latter disappointingly absent.

The two stars of The Mighty Boosh – Noel Fielding as Vince Noir, Julian Barratt as Howard Moon – are largely absent too in a film that states firmly from the beginning that it is no spin-off, even if their replacements aren't exactly dissimilar. Edward Hogg plays Stephen, an agoraphobic living in a London flat crammed with his obsessively-filed belongings, who introduces us to gambling, womanising, fun-loving Bunny, played by Simon Farnaby, in a flashback to a trip across Europe.

It's not the most promising of starts, as the premise for the trip, Stephen's unrequited love for a woman, and Bunny's idea of taking him on holiday with some gambling winnings to forget about her, are plodded through in a rather workmanlike and humourless manner. When it gets going it's not really that much of a story either, the trip being the usual narrative cop-out of diversions and incidental characters, amusing enough though they are.

Uptight Stephen is only interested in visiting dry museums and galleries - which introduces us to a great cameo from Richard Ayoade as the anal-retentive curator of a shoe museum - while Bunny wants to party, drink and meet girls. This is wearily typical stuff, the characters lacking the nuance to be anything other than stereotypes. Stephen and Bunny are not Vince and Howard, and it's unfortunate that some of the funniest lines come in later cameos from the two Boosh stars, only serving to remind you that Bunny and the Bull isn't quite as good as its television counterpart.

Imaginative sets, and Nigel Coan and Ivana Zorn's wonderful animation replace location work and are a delight, distracting from the near-absent story and a script that could be a lot funnier. Different techniques are used, the opening scenes of the film giving us a pen-drawn animation of the horse race where Bunny takes his winnings and a model Eurostar train speeding across Europe. Later, sets are built out of cereal boxes and newspaper, and a drive through snowy mountains is animated using a toy car and cotton wool. This playful, surreal visual feel, similar to that employed in The Mighty Boosh, charms and wins you over; even if the accompanying music, a rather gloomy piano and cello score, isn't as successful as the Boosh's daft reductive pop.

The jokes get better when Stephen and Bunny pick up Spanish drifter Eloisa, played by Veronica Echegui, in a depressing Polish seafood joint. Her sparky humour seems to galvanise interplay between the cast in what was apparently a partly-improvised script, and Bunny and the Bull finally becomes a funny film. It's in the later stages that the two Mighty Boosh stars appear too, Julian Barratt's mad tramp being a funny but tacked-on incidental character, while Noel Fielding's alcoholic matador gives the film some much needed direction to accompany the inevitable love story introduced by Eloisa. These draw us to a surprisingly well-rounded buddy movie ending, as imaginatively filmed as it is emotional.

Although you'll leave Bunny and the Bull with a smile, that doesn't altogether excuse a largely aimless film that at first contains a lot of unfunny jokes. There are stunning sets, wonderful animation sequences and even some laugh-out-loud moments, but in the end it's just an above average – though by no means sub-standard – British comedy movie that sits in the Mighty Boosh's shadow.

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rickmcgrath (12 years ago) Reply

Is this some kind of buddy road movie? this britcom hasn't made it to north america yet


Ben Austwick (12 years ago) Reply

Buddy road movie is a pretty accurate description, I only didn't use it because a lot of it is set on a train :)

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