Ray Cooney's best-of-British bigamist caper is a woeful piece of cinema, even while Danny Dyer makes for strangely charming lead.
farce (färs) n.
1. A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and slapstick elements are used for humorous effect.
2. A ludicrous, empty show; a mockery.
3. A seasoned stuffing or forcemeat, as for a roasted turkey.
Spring the word ‘humorous’ from the above list of definitions and you have not only a description of the plot, but also a fairly representative and concise review of veteran playwright Ray Cooney’s tedious, too-late-in-the-game film version of his hit '80s stage show, Run For Your Wife.
Danny Dyer – o yea, for it is he – stars as John Smith, a cheery London cabbie full of barrow boy charm and with a smile in his eye for any honest Englishman. We know he’s a good egg right off the bat when he gifts a busker – played, for some reason, by Sir Cliff Richard in a platinum blond fright wig – the fiver tip recently given to him by an uppity toff. Spread the cockney love and all that: we’re all in it together, bruv!
John’s top geezer-ness, however gets him into bother when he is inadvertently smacked round the head with a giant tin of dog food whilst attempting to stop two hoodie no-marks mugging a bag lady – played, for some reason, by Dame Judi Dench in a shit-flecked fright wig.
Why anyone would choose to rob a filth-encrusted street person of her pooch’s tea is left tantalisingly unclear, but the upshot remains that John wakes up in hospital with both the police and press wanting a word with our have-a-go hero.
John is keen to avoid both, because – this being a farce – he is, of course, a bigamist, and the last thing he needs is the coppers poking about or the tabloids spreading his picture all across London. So begins a tortuous, exhausting, logic-bothering, temporally baffling series of journeys across the Thames as John attempts – with the assistance of his unemployed neighbour/accent-neutral exposition vortex Neil Morrissey – to keep the polyandrous truth from his two unsuspecting wives.
Along the way we are gifted a timeworn checklist of farcical staples pulled straight from village hall am-dram that includes such copper-bottomed twenty-first-century crowd-pleasers as:
Rakes stepped on: 1
Windows fallen out of: 1
Chocolate cakes sat on: 1
Lionel Blair’s posterior, appearance through ceiling of: 1
Newspapers eaten: 1
Trousers, enforced removal thereof: 2
Bathrooms flooded: 2
Volkswagen, eye-watering product placements for: 2
Transvestism, accusations thereof: 2
Homosexuals, comedy depictions thereof: 4
Neil Morrissey looking heavenward and crying 'Blaahhdy hell!', pained expressions accompanied by: 14
Plot contrivances, wincingly tortuous: 398
And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with the inclusion of any single one of these if they were played with any hint of humour or energy, filmed in anything other than the most straightforward point’n’shoot manner or edited at a rate that didn’t allow empty, barren pauses for laughs that are just never going to arrive.
The production design is similarly flat and airless, with every room of every flat looking like the featureless, cheerless, anonymous homes regularly seen on Come Dine With Me. (Note to overseas/posh readers: Come Dine With Me is a TV show in which competing provincial oddballs attempt to poison each other with home-cooked pub grub.)
Dyer – who, for all his faults, is at least an engaging screen presence – just about holds it all together. Wisely leaving the mugging to his side-players, he softens his blokey charm just enough to make for a sympathetic lead, only occasionally playing to the peanut gallery.
The other actors seem to take this considered reticence as a void that Simply Must Be Filled with madballs eye-rolling, CBBC double takes and over-egged line readings. 'But it's a farce', you cry! Yes, but just because it’s a farce doesn’t mean you have to play it as broad and loud and emphatically signposted as a panto in a palliative hospital.
The success and humour of farce relies not only on characters being put into a delicate and compromising situation, but on the level of wit and ingenuity they show in extricating themselves from it. If you surround them with sideshow buffoons and credulous authority figures then you immediately ratchet down the tension and therefore dilute the comedy.
It’s the difference between being punk’d and being happy-slapped: in one you’re in on the joke, in the other you’re left confused and bloody and too embarrassed to tell your friends what just happened. Run For Your Wife isn’t quite as bad as that. But it’s close.
An antiquated ‘Oo-er, Missus!’ West End farce gets the Danny Dyer treatment? Erm…
Well, it ain’t ‘Frasier’, that’s for sure! Dyer is decent but the rest is more barse than farce.
Not quite so excruciating in the memory as in the actual viewing, but this remains a bizarre, ill-advised antediluvian folly. Like Jurassic Park.