Monday, 13 April 2015

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)
Directed by Damon Beesley & Iain Morris; Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Black Harrison, Joe Thomas

Rating: 3/5

The camera swoops through grey clouds, flashing with lightning. Ominous throbbing orchestral music plays as jagged, archaic titles float into view and are blasted apart. We pan over a suspension bridge towards three cloaked figures walking through a forest. An owl hoots. A full moon. A raised finger, pointing towards the skyline. Have I wandered into the latest Harry Potter film?

No, of course not. Harry Potter ended years ago; that’s the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, and we’re watching The Inbetweeners 2 for another round with our favourite hapless teens. Simon (Joe Thomas) and Neil (Blake Harrison) have come to visit Will (Simon Bird) at university, and quickly find him alone and snubbed by his peers.

It’s a marvel that the first minute presents us with this sequence, and before five minutes are out, we’re treated to another (presumably expensive) fantasy wherein renowned fabricator Jay (James Buckley) outlines the details of his fabulous life in Australia, where he is spending a gap year.

We see everything the average Brit would imagine of the land Down Under: beaches, bikinis, cricket, boomerangs, surfboards, Sydney nightclubs, kangaroos & koalas, ‘Strayan slang (bonzer, rooting); allusions to celebrities from Kylie & Dannii Minogue all the way to Steve Irwin, via Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman; served up with the crass sexual humour that typifies the bawdier end of the Inbetweeners spectrum.

It screams: “Here we are, we’re back, we’ve got a bigger budget, and this time, we’re going to Australia!” Love it or loathe it, you know what you’re going to get (The film’s tagline: “Soz, Oz.” is an astounding five letters of witty brevity) and they’re fully aware they don’t have to impress anyone who isn’t already a fan. Okay, it’s not quite as good as the first film, and nowhere near as original as the TV series, but I’m always going to be somewhat sympathetic to this franchise*.

I’ve been with The Inbetweeners since the beginning, when as a sixth former myself I laughed my head off at the antics of Will, Simon, Jay and Neil, as they muddled through a uniquely British adolescence that we could all see reflections of ourselves in. Maybe I didn’t watch the first broadcast of the first episode, but I duly caught up on 4oD and eagerly anticipated the second and third series.

The reset button has been pressed again as the boys’ girlfriends have ditched them in the interim (with series creators and writers/directors Damon Beesley & Iain Morris tearing up the neat little package with which they ended the last film). We all want our characters to grow as people, but in the case of The Inbetweeners, not too much. But they’re not all forgotten: Simon’s still hitched, though his girlfriend has become disturbingly obsessive, and Jay’s fruitless pursuit of his ex, Jane, turns out to be the whole reason he’s gone to Australia.

The best gags are at travelling in general, particularly the distinction between ‘travellers’ and ‘tourists’ made by pretentious, faux-spiritual backpackers, 90% of who seem to be Australian the world over (when they’re not from British public schools like Will’s new love interest, Emily). This culminates in a cringe worthy, but somehow brilliant campfire guitar performance by Will as he tries to fit in with this world, followed by a battering diatribe to the group when he realises he doesn’t.

Some of the humour, especially that involving excrement, is fairly lowbrow, but The Inbetweeners has always juggled teenage vulgarity with more nuanced shades of friendship and heartbreak, and it’s rather poignant to watch the four friends, who we’ve shared three TV series and almost two films with, holding hands as they dehydrate in the Australian outback after another ill-conceived and impulsive adventure. And there’s just enough room for a bit of toilet humour here, too.

Is the end nigh? For these characters, probably so; some of the actors are in their thirties now, and no longer ‘inbetween’ anything. But we can still live vicariously through Fresh Meat and Friday Night Dinner.

*You can read my ramblings on comedy sequel ennui as part of my review of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which is no worse than this film, and one which I was perhaps a little unfair to.

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