Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! *

Nativity3

They say bad things come in threes. When it comes to writer-director Debbie Isitt’s third Nativity film, things go from bad to worse. True, Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! is geared towards adult-chaperoned kiddies ready for a cheeky pre-festive giggle – and Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) and his donkey Archie are back (again) to oblige, like an annoying panto duo long past its prime.

The pull for the older crowd this time seems to be Martin Clunes and Catherine Tate, with Celia Imrie thrown in for chaotic measure. Whereas the latter plays adequately to type as the harassed new headmistress, all the former does is throw doubt as to their mental capacity at the time of accepting the roles. Do not expect a play on Doc Martin grumpiness, or anything like a Tate comedic treat.

Also, think ‘musical’ rather than kiddie comedy as at every available opportunity things burst into (irritating) song, usually led by one of the oldest junior school pupils ever seen. By the way, this braces-wearing teen ‘starlet’ is absent from some promotional posters, a massive slap in the face for someone tasked with kicking off each musical rendition with such enthusiasm.

St Bernadette’s needs help again to stay open (someone must be paying off Ofsted). After taking the kids to the local shopping centre, man-child Mr Poppy comes up with a great idea; enter a flash mob dance competition headed up by pop star Bradley Finch (Adam Garcia) and win a trip to New York. Hence this will show what a great school St Bernadette’s is that it can’t possibly be closed. There’s only one hurdle in the shape of new headmistress Mrs Keen (Imrie) who wants unqualified supply teacher Poppy gone and the school returned to order.

Along comes new teacher Mr Shepherd (Clunes) to step into Poppy’s place. With the big clown still haunting the school premises, Shepherd begrudgingly agrees to Poppy’s flash mob theory but then gets kicked in the head by accident by Archie the Donkey and loses his memory. He can’t even remember his own cute daughter, Lauren (Lauren Hobbs, the only star quality), or his fiancé, Sophie (Tate) who is waiting in New York to marry him. Poppy and kids decide to help get Shepherd’s memory back and win the competition.

Bah! Humbug! Yes, it’s like putting the boot into a local kid’s school nativity play when the little poppets are merely trying their best but are consistently upstaged by Mr Poppy’s idiocy. As creepy as a grown man preferring the company of kids is, Wootton’s portrayal is no more cringing than that of Cbeebies’ Justin – but at least the latter is educational in his entertainment. What becomes rapidly tiresome is the pairing of Wootton and Clunes as a pair of fools, resorting to fart jokes to get laughs – however curious it is witnessing Clunes in colourful jeans. There is no expected playoff of Poppy’s ‘innocence’ against a Doc Martin haughtiness that is perhaps expected by older viewers.

Tate as Sophie spends most of the time stressing on a phone, marooned in a NYC hotel for virtually the entire film, then being dolled up like the Christmas tree fairy for various dance scenes and the predictable Xmas wedding. In fact, returning character, the evil Gordon Shakespeare, played by Jason Watkins seems to come into his camp own this time around, leading his well-bred troupe into a ‘Gangnam Style’ flash mob dance that is one of the only entertaining musical pieces. Title tune, Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! is not. Tuneless but catchy, it has the same effect as watching any kid’s panto performance – one being encouragingly supportive but enduring bum notes through gritted teeth.

As things get sillier and parents begin to wonder why they put their kids through this (this parent included), Archie makes a final appearance – as does the rest of the cast – up the top of a famous Big Apple landmark. Bizarre is not the half of it. But if all else fails, just sing along to disguise what an ass the whole sorry thing is. Note to director: look up the true meaning of ‘flash mob’ too.

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Gulliver’s Travels – 3*

Jack Black is an acquired taste. Let’s face it; if you’re not a fan, you wouldn’t even contemplate going to see a film, which is effectively another stage for self-depreciating Blackmania. The only issue is whether as a fan of the tale of Gulliver’s Travels, the version from director Rob Letterman – the man behind Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale – will entertain or irk you. If you are loyal to the quintessentially English literary text, you may find the contemporary American (New York) spin a bit too brash, as Gulliver becomes a bungling mailroom employee with aspiring ideas of being a travel writer to impress the girl (travel sub-editor Darcy (Amanda Peet)), and is sent off to the Bermuda Triangle on his first assignment.

Low and behold, hapless Gulliver hits a waterspout in a vicious storm, and gets spat out on the shores of Lilliput, full of little people who think he’s a beast – well, he is a man giant to them. The rest is set for a fest of Black comic over-indulgence, Black flabby flesh over-exposure, Black eyebrow gymnastics, and Black taunts at the stuffiness of old English etiquette. The latter is what gets a little irksome at times, especially with when Gulliver revamps Lilliput in New York style with garish billboards and American casuals. Admittedly, the part where he goes all ‘School of Rock’ (Guitar Hero moves) is as amusing as an impatient kid trying to impress a parent. The re-enacting of cinematic classics, like Star Wars and Titanic for the Lilliput royal family as a theatrical re-enactment of the great Gulliver’s life back home get most of the satirical laughs.

What makes these moments are the impressive supporting cast of Brits in deadpan humour mode, including Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, James Corden, and Catherine Tate – although, sadly, we get to see very little input from the latter lady. O’Dowd appears to match the Black idiocy for the British contingent as pompous General Edward, and Blunt complements as bored, but smart and very beautiful Princess Mary he’s betrothed to. But it’s fellow countryman Jason Segel as the love-struck Horatio yearning for Mary’s affection and as Black’s diminutive sidekick who often steals the scenes from Black, especially he wooing of Mary with a contemporary love song classic.

There is also one inspired moment in the film, where Gulliver wakes up in a dolls house and gets terrorised by a youngster that’s almost Lynchian in respect, but the rest of the film is pantomime fluff that still touches on the original tale’s themes of man’s treatment of man, petty differences between sides/religions and political corruption, but all done in a far lighter manner. Unfortunately, the film concept swings from Wild Wild West to Transformers – perhaps a precaution to keep the youngsters happy with a bit of robot wars? Prepare, also, as always, for the big morals at the end, delivered by Black who always comes to his adult senses for a mere split second, after a burst of childish lunacy.

Black does what he does best in Gulliver’s Travels; he’s a man-child at heart, employed to dumb down any tale for the kids. There is an uglier side in the shameless advertising throughout, targeting the adults who have nowhere to hide from their offspring in the cinema shadows, especially the Lilliput soldiers’ infatuation with Gulliver’s iPhone. Still, a jolly funny song and dance later reiterates that neither star nor cast have taken this seriously, and as a bit of family escapism on Boxing Day, it’s adequately entertaining, and far better than your local stage panto.

3/5 stars

By L G-K