HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 REVIEW

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DRAGONS! Hiccup and Toothless are back after the DreamWorks animated blockbuster hit the big screens! Bigger? Absolutely. Better? Visually it’s a feast for the eyes. While not surpassing the original, it certainly matches it for story, drama and entertainment. Get the little ‘uns or the big kids (like myself) over to the pics and invest!

So what’s it all about? It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favourite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the centre of a battle to protect the peace.

Firstly, 3D not a massive investment to be honest. So save your pennies, parents. The animation is incredible alone. The 3D makes it more prominent but not a must. The detail is stunning. Every little thing, the expressions, the waves as Hiccup and Toothless soar across the seas, brilliant. Anyway, we reunite with the dynamic duo and it is great that the characters have actually aged in the five years. Hiccup does look very different, and weirdly a little like Andy from Toy Story.

The gang are all back, along with the original and very talented voicing cast consisting of Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson, Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse and T. J. Miller. Although, they don’t seem to be in this film as much. They still make a mark and bring the laughs but until the second half really. They seemed to be cast aside and understandably so as the story primarily revolves around Hiccup yet again. Torn between being a dragon rider and taking over the reins of being chief by his pushy but legendary father, Stoick (THIS IS . . . Gerard Butler), Hiccup must make a choice.

The spoiler-ific trailers reveal the identity of the mysterious Dragon Rider which was hardly a surprise twist. But for those who were lucky enough not to see that trailer then don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond/Gladiator) brings his gravelly gravitas to the sinister Drago with aplomb. It was irritating me who was voicing Eret, the henchman. Firstly because I recognised the voice and secondly because his voice didn’t seem strong enough and didn’t match the character. And low and behold, I know nothing as it was Kit “Jon Snow” Harington (Game of Thrones – obviously). Shame. His conviction didn’t pull it off for me.

However, these are only minor quibbles as there are laughs to be had. Moments that surprise and pluck at the heart strings. It’s riveting, a feast for the eyes with an enthralling visual masterpiece of a finale with Toothless taking on his biggest foe to date. It may not surpass the original as the story may not necessarily break new ground but it is most certainly on par and if rumours are hinting at another, then another I want. I won’t divulge too much as this is one I would recommend that you see. There’s a little something for every one plus DRAGONS, hellooo.

In the words of GB, THIS IS . . . Not a bad sequel. 4 out of 5! Better. See I do like some films, you know!

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THE PURGE: ANARCHY REVIEW

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I think I’m going to purge myself from seeing any more of these films for the foreseeable future.

It’s not bad enough that the first one wasn’t that great. To hear there was a sequel, I was baffled. However, that ultra cool trailer worked its magic and had me intrigued.  The promise of an anarchic Escape from New York meets Marathon Man mesh up had me ticking all the boxes. Alas, this time around it’s another misfire. A great concept that fails to reach it’s true horrific or satirical potential.

The opening 30 minutes was slow burning but actually quite watchable. The fact that this time around we are seeing The Purge on the streets not just in a rich suburban household made it that much more interesting and the introduction of multiple characters helped keep the pace going and freshened it up. However, once we get past the introduction of the newbies, you can’t help but pick at their flat one dimensional clichéd templates. Now I know these films are not going to deal with the human condition and aspires to be nothing more than an futuristic urban thriller with the inevitable picking off of each member but still . . . could it at least try and be less predictable?

I cannot call this a horror, as such. The concept is horrific in itself but a few moments of blood and gore and a couple of jumpy moments does not a scary movie make. Although unfortunately with horror films of late, that does seem to be the case. How the characters unite in their struggle to survive is well done and pacey. However, with all typical “horror movies”, the inevitable squabbling and issues before the Purge pop their ugly heads and it soon becomes very soap opera-ish and very dull.

It would help if they had a character that you actually cared about . . . and for a moment we do. Welcome Frank Grillo (Captain America: Winter Soldier) as the mysterious Sergeant. His Death Race armour cladded vehicle. Suited and booted and scouting like the streets like the Punisher. A predator hunting for his prey. However, this protagonist has a particular, if predictable, kill in mind. Grillo has always been an underrated actor and this performance shows the charisma that he carries. His moody mystery man helped lift a film that seemed to be losing more and more of its momentum as the running time dragged along.

To be honest, the most memorable characters (minus Grillo) are the captors with their creepy masks. Oh yes, the creepy masks are back. However, after a while, you realise they are just riding around on bikes screaming. Jack Conley (LA Confidential) certainly made a mark and will no doubt become a cult character as Big Daddy. Hunting around in a black delivery man with . . . oh yeah, a chain gun in the back.

There are moments of action that cure the blood lust but it’s all pretty tame. There were a few twists to be had on their way. The idea of the rich using the Purge as their own little play day was a nice bit of satire. There were some moments that were a little creepy. The fact we follow a man carrying a case of beer and setting up a sniper rifle as if he’s going fishing was demented but brilliant. However, it’s all moments. After a while, you realise that’s it. The cast squabble. Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) seems to be playing the same role over and over. His bashful, anxious boyfriend character is getting really old.

The whole “This is wrong. Killing is bad” is pointless in a film like this . . . especially when being pursued by bloodthirsty nutters. It seems to get caught up in its own ridiculousness and ends up becoming a parody of itself. A clever and highly hilarious scene in which the rich are bidding to kill a group of people was unexpected. But the Marathon Man-esque garden party purge sequence that followed was overkill. It certainly injected some much needed tension and suspense as Grillo is trying to save the gang against suited and booted millionaires with night vision goggles.

However, it all gets incredibly predictable, corny with a hokey ending that killed off any buzz that this film desperately tried to generate. Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) as Carmelo. My word. Now that was horrific. His anti-Purge campaign videos were flat as hell as he spouted utter bilge and his appearance near the finale. Let’s just say he does his worst Samuel L Jackson impression. Awful. A shame for a really talented actor. You could tell the film had lost it by the fact a good portion of the audience were laughing. Kind of the reverse effect, wouldn’t you think? 2/5 for me.

Currently ranks #180 out of 199!

BOYHOOD REVIEW

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Richard Linklater brings us his most ambitious, and longest, project to the big screen with . . . mixed results. An intriguing, if overhyped, concept works as a great marketing tool but also delivers a good story with a great cast. However, despite offering a different and interesting viewing experience, it soon borders on pretentious as the second hour passes.

We follow our lead character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up and battles with abusive stepfathers, negligent fathers and continuous moves across the state. The first half of the film was an engaging, slow burning look into young Mason’s life as he endures boyhood. It was great to see the same cast over the 12 year gap. It was a nice change and helped get rid of those continuity gaffs that always irritate me in movies. Coltrane is a likeable and talented lead across the years, which always helps in such an ambitious project.

However, Mason suddenly ages or the story skips a few years without any warning or marker. If it wasn’t for the fact the soundtrack spanned my childhood, I wouldn’t have known what year it was. An excellent indie soundtrack by the way. One that included the likes of Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, etc added to the film. Patricia Arquette (Medium) and Ethan Hawke (a Linklater regular of late) were perfectly cast as the divorced parents. The inevitable competition between the warring parents for their kids’ affection was predictable but nicely done. Hawke stole virtually every scene he was in and proved that he is still a reliable actor.

Arquette had to play the role a little more straight faced but she got to have her moment to shine in the final moments as she sees her children off to college, which made for an endearing moment as the film came full circle. A tense chapter in which Arquette moves in with a deadbeat alcoholic made for uncomfortable, if dramatic, viewing. Kudos to Marco Perella. He was fantastic as the volatile Bill Welbrock. A ticking time bomb with his inevitable detonation vastly approaching with every drop of whiskey.

As Mason endures love, heartbreak, disappointment and . . . life really; you cannot help but feel you are watching someone’s life and after two hours, with a further 45 minutes to go, I felt that Linklater was self-indulging a little bit. Coltrane had enough charisma to keep the film going but once he reaches 18, I felt myself getting infuriated with him. He seemed to be too laidback and without a care in the world. I mean, of course, the idea is about finding oneself and choosing the right path and making a future for yourself but Mason doesn’t care at all. You can respect it to an extent but in terms of viewing, he soon becomes a greasy haired mumbler of a teen that borders on douche-baggery.

I mean for any teen, it can be frustrating with that endless pondering of what lies next. The endless questioning by family figures and friends interrogating Mason on life decisions was relatable for any one. At the same time, I felt that more could have been out of certain scenes. You expect in certain arguments or decisions, something else to happen, only for it to wither out and lead to nothing or skip past it altogether. Mason’s issue with bullies, for example, leads nowhere. Mainly because he keeps moving school. One of Arquette’s partners appears to become another angry drunk with tension mounting between him and Mason, only for it to be skipped forward a few years with the partner gone and only a sentence to explain.

There were so many points as the film drew to an excruciating close, in which it could have ended sooner. I mean the final moments do make for an uplifting and open ending, which does work surprisingly. However, it seemed to go out with a whimper and a mumble than a bang. A different concept made for watchable viewing but a questionable length (again that phrase) seemed to slacken this vehicle. A great cast (credit where it’s due also to Lorelei Linklater. Using your own family in a movie doesn’t always work . . . not unless you’re a Coppola), good story just do enough to do more good than bad. Worth a watch if you want an easy going, coming of age drama. 3/5 for me.

Currently ranked 64 out of 198!

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION REVIEW

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Trans-Bore-Mers: Age of The Extinct franchise. Michael Bay is back with more bang, more bucks and more . . . of the same old monotonous, mechanical overlong drivel.

Raking in close to a billion dollars, I am lost for words. You know you’re onto a loser when Mark Wahlberg can’t even save the day or make really bad lines good.

To be honest, I’m not the biggest Transformers fan. I felt the original was overhyped and took me a couple of viewings to get into it. I actually enjoyed the second instalment which was heavily panned and the third . . . well, the action was good and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley . . . wow! What?

Now to be honest, the opening half hour was actually not that bad. It was typical Bay; clichéd, corny, OTT, explosions everywhere but enough to keep you glazed over and attentive plus it was funny (for the right reasons? Meh). A couple of surprise twists involving some characters was unexpected but watchable. The idea of all Transformers being hunted down was a decent concept.

The 3D is fantastic . . . for the first 40 minutes then it seems to disappear. All the stuff that had popped out or flew across the screen vanished. The special effects were outstanding anyway but for once, I thought this could be a film that proves that 3D is not just a gimmick. Alas, it was not to be. Bay cannot be challenged on his visual mastery but when it comes to pace, characters and story, well . . .

After two hours, I was asleep. If not for Stanley Tucci’s egotistical demented take on the late Steve Jobs, I would have been out the door much sooner. Once you’ve seen Optimus smash up a dozen robots/buildings, it gets repetitive really fast. A couple of awesome bad ass moments from Prime does not excuse the fact that Bay has nothing else to offer.

The problem with these giant robot blockbusters is that what the hell are humans are supposed to do? Apparently scream and moan at each other. It would have been nice to see the Autobots not cause as much as destruction as their foes . . . or least try.

Kelsey Grammer proved to be quite sinister and badass. The only problem (apart from the fact the older he looks, the more he becomes The Prospector from Toy Story 2) is that his character is pushed into the background.

Titus Welliver (Gone Baby Gone) played a piece of work until the mad-dash finale that seemed to throw everything but the kitchen sink. Marky Mark and his funky bunch of young up and comers were increasingly irritating and clichéd as the film dragged on.

Wahlberg does his best but trying to make lines about spaceship insurance and being an inventor and having to invent not sound terrible was always going to be a challenge. He might as well have said, “I’m a peacock. You gotta let me fly”. The overprotective father spiel is old hat and beefing it up with Jack Reynor’s (Delivery Man) younger cocky Irish Seth Rogen looking boyfriend just came off hammy.

It was great to see the pretty Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel) get a bigger platform but to play another troublesome teenage daughter again? Not so much. Screaming and complaining about her father all the way through was disappointing.

Also an elongated joke revolving how the young couple came to meet was stupid and a little dodgy. I mean Reynor’s character carrying a Romeo and Juliet statute in his wallet? Really? What was that about?

Sophia Myles was wasted as a geological scientist. I mean, to be frank, her character was pointless. The only human actor to get out of this mess Scott-free would be the legendary T. J. Miller (Silicon Valley) as Wahlberg’s comic sidekick. A much needed boost in the endless drivel of predictable hokum.

The proof was in the pudding in how Bay had little to offer in story by the fact that Megatron is back yet again. Granted, it was clever how it was incorporated into the little story there was. The Autobots heralded a great voice cast including the likes of John Goodman, Ken Wantanabe and John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) but not even they could make some of the leaden lines jump off the page. Shame.

The jokes were flat and so OTT that I found myself shaking my head. I mean the sequence with Tucci and Bingbing Li kung fu fighting their way across Hong Kong felt like a drawn out live action cartoon skit. And Megatron demanding his minions find his seed was . . . just . . . oh my!

I mean, let’s be honest, Transformers is not that sort of film. It’s big, dumb and full of – robots. But it can be a whole lot shorter with more interesting characters and for once, maybe it should take itself a little more seriously because it’s getting ridiculous now.

One for the scrap heap? It’s in the crusher, waiting to be crushed but at the moment, my hand is just hovering over the button.

If there are going to be two more sequels (God help us), Bay better find his A-game fast!

2/5

Currently ranked 142 out of 197!

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES REVIEW

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Yawn of the Planet of the Apes? Not quite but a questionable running length does more damage than the simian flu in what could have been a visually stunning tour de force of a prequel/sequel/prequel sequel

I fear this film will split people. Not that it hadn’t from the get go with a Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy but some will be in awe of the incredibly visual work to even care that beneath the surface there isn’t a lot of story and in terms of human character development, there is zilch. I really wanted to this work and it does . . . in sorts. A mixed bag.

Visually stunning. Incredible animation. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and Toby Kebbell (Rock ‘N’ Rolla) are fantastic as Caesar and Koba. Their expressions and movements are impeccable. You can actually suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the beautifully animated habitat. I know that the monkeys are at the fore front of these movies but it seems that no time was spent on providing us with human characters that we should care about. It is all clearly defined in the trailer; good guy, bad guy, good ape, bad ape.

The opening sequence in which we see the apes hunting and communicating through sign language is intriguing and suspenseful. They have developed a safe haven with rules and respect. That is until the humans come along. To be honest, the 3D is not a massive investment nor does it make a massive impact. The animation is good enough. Every time the humans enter the scene, you feel like the wind is being knocked out of the sails. It was great to see TV actors from the small screen get a bigger platform to perform but the characters are so clichéd and flat, that you find it hard to care. The time and energy is more focused on our primitive protagonists.

It was great to see Jason Clarke (Lawless) playing a normal good guy and he was probably the most memorable character . . . out of the humans. If anything it proved that Franco and Lithgow’s presences were very much missed. A passing reference with some video camera footage is we all get on old James ‘Squinty’ Franco. Keri Russell (The Americans) was the only female character that was so bland, it was such a shame. Any back story or mystery about the humans is soon exposed and leaves little interest. It felt like the writer had spent the time on the monkeys and thought, “Oh wait. We need some humans. Yeah, that will do”. It was great to see Gary Oldman but to be honest, anyone could have played him. All he did was cry or yell “They’re animals” over and over.

The main thing that kept this slackening piece going was the brewing rivalry between Koba and Caesar as Koba’s distrust for the humans seemed to threaten the very peace that Caesar worked hard to keep hold of. One thing that did irritate me slightly was once you have heard Caesar yell “No” or “Go” numerous times (with great conviction by Serkis), you can’t help but feel where is this going? We have seen all this before. For some, that will be enough. For others, you may be left wanting. Caesar is still a charismatic character and he steals the scene every time. But apart from Koba, there aren’t any memorable characters that can rival them.

It’s not all bad. Koba’s stake out sequences on the humans made for engaging viewing and when the action and suspense finally arrives, it delivers the goods. The final 20 minutes are riveting, explosive and action packed. However, you can’t help but feel that with the inevitable air of another sequel rearing its ugly head, that everything will either remain unresolved or be thrown up in the air. You find yourself picking out moments and guessing; this must be where the apes go full evil and enslave the humans, nope. Now, nope.

Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) does his best at taking over the helm but it all felt like build up. With confirmation that he will be directing the next instalment, two things are a must. More pace and better humans. Monkeys are A-OK. One slight qualm, how come Koba spoke more English than Caesar? Why aren’t they all speaking yet? But to be able to do sign language, hunt and build up a colony in ten years, some would say that’s plenty progress.

All in all, not bad. Fantastic animation, great visual and action pieces but a lagging pace and predictable human characters kill off what could have something so much better. 3/5

Currently ranked 64 out of 196!

BEGIN AGAIN REVIEW

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Better. We’re getting there. A nice film that delivers the feel good factor without laying on the cheese too much but not without its imperfections.

A somewhat slow burning opener turns into an easy going well acted and well sung summery movie with a different ending, if a little abrupt in my opinion. John Carney may not have surpassed Once but he hasn’t made a bad follow up. If Keira Knightley actually sang, then what a voice. Her voice with those Norah Jones-esque lyrics were sublime. She can’t stop doing the pouty face but a beaut all the same.

What’s it all about? A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive (Ruffalo) and a young singer-songwriter (Knightley) new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Knightley and Ruffalo are, to be expected, superb together. They have fantastic chemistry and work well off each other. Ruffalo is a very charismatic actor and has proven time and time again to be a reliable lead. He delivers the goods yet again. The time spent building up as to why these two characters are in their situations and meet at that point in their lives is a little long at the tooth but once we get the gist, it allows the film to flow a bit more and makes for good viewing.

The lyrics are well written, the songs are fantastic. A movie soundtrack that I would actually consider downloading. Carney catches the energy and buzz of New York City and uses it to his full potential. He even manages to have a cheeky pop at the music industry and the corporate labels. A nice commentary, if a little out of place in this feel good film. Hailee Steinfeld unfortunately seems to play the same estranged daughter role. I mean, if you have seen 3 Days to Kill, it is virtually the same character but replace the bike with an electric guitar.

Catherine Keener does her best but has such a mundane supporting role. Cee-Lo Green and Adam Levine, on the other hand, do a great job. I mean they have proven that they can act in other movies (Hotel Transylvania for Green) and TV shows (American Horror Story for Levine) but it helps in bringing their characters to life. Levine, in particular, as the sleazy rock star lothario that breaks Knightley’s heart. Mos Def, unfortunately for me, was very dull and I always feel like he can’t be arsed to be in the film. Sighing and rolling his eyes and mumbling with no conviction.

James Corden was hilarious as Knightley’s comical side kick. He provides the usual spiel but it still works and brings the odd laugh. What was interesting is that with the attraction and chemistry between the leads and with these sort of films, you expected the inevitable. Only this time, it didn’t happen. A surprise but I felt that with this sort of film, I would have accepted it. And it all zips along and you’re getting into it; only for it to end quite openly and rather abrupt for me. It just seemed to fizzle out.

However, it’s fun, entertaining, easy going. Worth a watch 3.5/5 for me.

Currently ranked #49 out of 196!

MRS BROWN BOY’S D’MOVIE REVIEW

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What the feck did I just watch?

Brendan O’Carroll is back as Ireland’s favourite Mammy, Agnes Brown. Better than ever and on the big screen? Tragically, no. Maybe Mrs Brown should have stayed on the small screen.

Now I know, that’s not nice. I am actually a fan of the TV show and got caught up in the craze that was Mrs Brown’s Boys. Critics slated it back then, despite huge success and ratings. However, this time round, this sluggish effort gives quite a few of the critics’ justification.

I went in, wanting to like this but my lord, I always thought that a number of sitcoms had that irritating canned laughter as an act of desperation to make the jokes sound better. Not the audience I was sitting with. I felt like I was sitting in an Andy Millman audience from Extras. Laughing at the littlest thing. I mean, they were just laughing at O’Carroll dressed as Mrs Brown, for fecks sake. I mean, come on. He’s been doing it for three years now.

If you are not familiar with Mrs Brown’s Boys, do not see this as an introductory course. You’ll just sit there thinking why do those crazy English like this so much? And that’s the problem with translating TV to film; it doesn’t always work.

So many sitcoms have tried in the past and failed, bar the Inbetweeners Movie (which wasn’t perfect), Mr Bean (minus the sequel) and Kevin and Perry Go Large. Unfortunately, this was a case of best bits in the trailer and even those bits weren’t laugh out loud or that particularly brilliant anyway.

O’Carroll had found a winning formula back on the small screen. It wasn’t subtle or particularly clever. But it was funny, entertaining and most importantly . . . FUNNY! It felt like he knew he would be onto a winning horse and just slapped anything together, thinking “Well, they’ll go see it anyway. Who gives a feck?”.

It has a couple of moments. But that’s it. Moments. Some of his zippy one liners still manage to crack a much needed smile in this stale treat. I mean the little bits may bring a tut but a guilty grin all the same. Dermot Crowley’s (Luther) character Keep a PRIC in power. Sloppy satire but a chuckle none the same.

To be honest, it was such a mess that for every good gag (and there weren’t many), we had to endure drawn out unfunny dialogue and a feeble attempt at trying to make social commentary. Even the family moments bar one scene with O’Carroll and Jennifer Gibney (his wife) who strangely plays his daughter Kathy, seemed hammy and desperate.

It was an endearing moment but didn’t seem to fit in this film. The format that brought three successful series didn’t really work. The scenes where they messed up their lines seemed forced to get a cheap laugh. One did get a guilty laugh.

Not even the OTT moments were that great, just desperate and still unfunny. The gag with some blind ninjas went on far too long. It was great to see some TV personalities showing up. I mean Eamon Holmes, it was a little obvious. Robert Bathurst (you may recognise him from Downton Abbey) as a solicitor with Tourette’s was unexpected and did bring the laughs.

Ironically, the last 20 minutes did seem to find a pocket for some gags that did manage to make me less angry and disappointed. The exact length each TV ep was, near enough. Maybe the feature length was a challenge and it felt like one.

Not even Winnie (Eilish O’Carroll) and Buster (Danny O’Carroll), two of the better characters, couldn’t save the day. Interesting, both are Brendan’s real life sister and son. Buster certainly got the most laughs but even his moments weren’t that great.

I just felt that O’Carroll went for lazy stereotyping. The shady Russians were incredibly clichéd and bland. His impression of a Chinese kung fu master got a few frowns. And the legendary Grandad reuniting with his old IRA cronies was a little stereotypical and felt a bit desperate that it had to lead to another IRA gag after avoiding it for all three TV series. But it did get a cheeky gag involving a colleague with Parkinson’s and a ticking bomb.

Rory and the Channel swim was cringeworthy and seeing running away, squealing again. It felt repetitive and that Borat swim suit. There’s an image that will haunt my dreams for nights to come.

The play on names worked to some extent. Guilty punnery. I mean, come on. Tom Crewes and Irma Byke. The moment in Ol’ Agnes is dripping wet then miraculously dry the next. Cue a cheeky exchange at the camera, “I love the movies” worked.

But for every little cheap titter, there’s just a bad gag or a pointless one. I mean the dance number at the beginning? What the feck was that all about? And that’s all I kept asking myself. At times, I felt like I was watching a really bad amateur adult panto.

Maybe it’s time for O’Carroll to hang up the wig. Stop milking the cash cow because the udders were well and truly dry on this one.

1.5/5

Currently ranked 183 out of 196!