Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair (Channel 4)

Just catching up with a couple of recent reviews for Orange.

It's a little-known fact that telly critics like to have tattoos to commemorate their favourite TV moments. And, as I sit here in the bath dictating these notes to Heinrich, my secretary, I can see '2 November 1982' scrolling down the inside of my thigh into the bubble bath.

Obviously, you don't need me to remind you that was the day Channel 4 launched and “alternative comedy” landed firmly in our laps, courtesy of the Comic Strip team and their cracking Enid Blyton spoof Five Go Mad in Dorset.

Now, 29 years later, at least some of the team have reunited for The Hunt for Tony Blair – “a special '50s-style fugitive film noir spoof” in which Tony Blair (Stephen Mangan) goes on the run to clear his name after being accused of murder.

The film includes nods to classic black-and-white movies like The 39 Steps and Sunset Boulevard, as Blair tries to find out who's responsible for framing him. Not surprisingly, the plot eventually leads back to the angry, scruffy Gordon Brown (Ford Kiernan) and the creepy, bloodless Peter Mandelson (Nigel Planer).

Sadly, as promising as that might sound, none of it really hangs together as funny or biting satire. The whole thing plays out like an idea cobbled together from random audience suggestions at a comedy improv night.

However, while it might have worked on stage for a couple of minutes before being shunted aside for something funnier, here it's dragged out for a very long hour of laboured and fairly irrelevant gags.

There's also something a bit distasteful rather than provocative about the way the deaths of John Smith and Robin Cook are fictionalised for comic effect, and most of the characters seem to have little or nothing recognisable from their real-life counterparts.

Furthermore, while there are still obviously many questions to be answered about Tony Blair's conduct around the invasion of Iraq, this film seems a bit like "yesterday's news" in light of the deepening economic and social gloom currently enveloping the country.

While they varied in quality, a new Comic Strip film was always an event back in the day – which makes it particularly sad that their latest outing is so irrelevant and lacking in bite. Maybe it's time the Comic Strip was left to rest in peace.

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