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.