Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Parker & Thompson ST. TRINIAN'S? Cheap laughs can still be VERY funny

Colin Firth with ants in his pants; Rupert Everett in a dual role in drag (see below); and Mischa Barton, sober (well, we think...). They're all here and doing quite nicely, thank you -- even if what they're doing is rather by-the-book. There remains, even at this late date, something to be said for the tried and true. While in drama, as well as melodrama, repeat performances can bore before they please, comedy often proves a bit luckier. Perhaps the times are such that we particularly crave a good laugh, and ST. TRINIAN'S -- the more-or-less updated remake of the 1954 semi-classic The Belles of St. Trinian's -- provides many good ones, second-hand though they be.

In truth the original Belles was no great shakes. It had its moments (you can check it out on DVD) but does not touch the hem of the best British classic comedies, despite a cast that includes Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, Beryl Reid and others. The new version -- co-directed by Oliver Parker (co-directing may be his salvation) and Barnaby Thompson and co-written by a quartet of writers (plus cartoons, as in the original, by Ronald Searle) -- has a cast just as fine, in its way -- if much more timely. In addition to those mentioned above, look for Fenella Woolgar, Lena Heady, Toby Jones, Anna Chancellor, Stephen Fry, Celia Imrie and Russell Brand plus, in some of the schoolgirl roles, Jodie Whittaker, Gemma Arterton, Juno Temple and Lily Cole (the latter recently seen to better advantage in Sally Potter's Rage).

Released in Britain in 2007 to become a major popular success, the movie has taken its time in reaching our shores. Did our distributors imagine that British schoolgirls wouldn't carry the same caché over here? I can't think why not, as they are quite the adorable -- and sexy -- bunch. The plot? Oh, something about the new girl at school, a mortgage come due, lost love (that's Mr. Firth suffering from it, above), drugs, sex, a popular television quiz show and art theft, among other concerns. All of it is dumb but increasingly delightful (the film actually gets better as it diddles along). The musical score is lots of fun, and I would sit through the entire endeavor again just to hear the duet sung by Colin and Rupert over the end credits. Nitwit heaven I call this one.

St. Trinian's makes its U.S. theatrical debut Friday, October 9, here in NYC at AMC's Empire 25 and 19th St. East theaters. It may be playing in your city, too: Check the official US site here (scroll down to it via the British page that first opens up) and check for play dates in your zip code.

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