Saturday, 5 April 2008

Son of Rambow - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Garth Jennings
Screenwriter: Garth Jennings
Running Time: 96 mins
Certificate: 12A
Released: April 4th

With the real Rambo currently blasting Burma to bits, it’s hard to remember a time when the Vietnam vet wasn’t the brunt of pop culture jokes. Heck, in the world of media overload it’s hard to imagine a time when a twelve-year-old boy could possibly have been prevented from getting near a television. Yet in Son of Rambow, writer/director Garth Jennings takes us back to 1982, when Rambo was less politically suspect and movie downloads were but a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye. Boisterous pre-teen Lee Carter (Will Poulter) is an outsider at school who spends his spare time making pirate videos in his local cinema, hooking up multiple VCRs in his garage so his older brother can sell them. Sitting outside the Heads office Lee meets meek Will (Bill Milner), who is from a household governed by a religious sect. They spark an unlikely friendship, and after Will is exposed to the world of John Rambo, the two decide to film their own sequel in attempt to win Channel 4’s Screen Test competition.

Jennings preserves the whimsical tone of his underrated adaptation of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and creates an aesthetic akin to Michel Gondry tackling Grange Hill. The homemade effects, perfected in his music video work as part of Hammer and Tongs, are delights as doodles from Will’s notebook such as an evil Scarecrow and a flying dog come to lo-fi life, and the outlandish stunts attempted by the boys won’t fail to raise a smile. The heart of the film is in their relationship, with is beautifully played by Poulter and Milner. The range of emotions portrayed by these young debuting actors creates something touching and sweet without the saccharine that could have so easily emerged. Yet it is once their relationship and the filmmaking process is invaded by the lacklustre supporting characters that the film loses its way.

There’s Didier (Jules Sitruk), a French exchange student stereotype complete with an extravagant taste for fashion and make up, an androgynous poser who should never have been more than a visual gag. Once he and his band of lackeys take over the film, things become hectic and out of control, and Jennings seems to lose his thread. The wonderful Jessica Stevenson is similarly wasted in his role as Will’s Amish-like mother, whose entire oppressive religious upbringing subplot is predictable and a little dull. For a film about kids in the 80s and cinema, there’s a crippling lack of edge in examining an era that brought us The Goonies and Stand By Me. Ultimately Son of Rambow outstays its welcome, and despite visual panache and two endearing leads ends up feeling like a very typical and occasionally lame British comedy.

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