Why do British comic actors struggle in straight roles compared to their US counterparts such as Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and … I’m loathed to say it … Will Smith?
Is it because the Brits are ugly, gangly and have bad teeth? They made their way to the top because they’re naturally funny, not because they have the complete package.
John Cleese might have been married a zillion times, but he’s lanky as hell (ditto Stephen Merchant), Ricky Gervais will always be the fat bloke off The Office regardless of how many bench-presses he does, and rubber-faced Rowan Atkinson looks like Mr Bean. But when these guys open their eyes, mouths or even legs, mirth ensues before we’ve computed what they’re saying.
The likes of Smith, Carell, Jerry Seinfeld and the men off Friends are all matinee idols in comparison. The only exception to the rule are fat blokes who die prematurely to earn a few tears and telling nods (from Jane Fonda and co) at the Oscars.
Cohen trailing Coogan’s run
Granted, Steve Coogan might be the exception, although he has been biding his time, with his best straight role work aptly coming as the straight man in The Trip series. But Stan and Ollie last year confirmed his leading man credentials, finally following up on the promise of Philomena – the route trailblazed by Dudley Moore and Hugh Laurie is opening up for him.
And hot on his heels is Sasha Baron Cohen, who is a revelation in The Spy (67 on Metacritic; Sep 6 on Netflix), a 1960s espionage thriller in which he plays a Mossad agent based in Damascus. He is restrained but still charismatic – there’s not an atom of Borat about him.
Will Ferrell and Danny McBride are just two of the thousand comedic American actors who can get serious if called upon (think Everything Must Go and Up in the Air) and they’ve both got Netflix titles coming out. In Between Two Ferns: The Movie (Sep 20 on Netflix), Ferrell is one of the guests on Zach Galifianakis’s chatshow, and events take a turn for the worst when Matthew McConaughey is accidentally drowned on set. While McBride co-stars with John Goodman in The Righteous Gemstones (Aug 19 on HBO Nordic), a comedy about a televangelist family.
And finally, Smithy, after a string of stinkers (not helped when he opts to work with his talentless kids), returns to our screens with hitman with a hit on himself yarn Gemini Man (Not Released Worldwide; Oct 10), a rip-off of Looper, only in this film Will-boy is playing both the old and young self (a clone naturally).
Clive Owen, who was cloned in the 1990s, co-stars in what is a busy autumn for the Brit, as he is also in The Informer (NRW; Sep 26), which doesn’t look too bad despite the uninspiring title. When an FBI agent (Joel Kinnaman – the Swede in House of Cards) infiltrates a prison to bust a kingpin (which is already perilous enough), he hasn’t banked on a state police detective (the rapper Common), hell-bent on discovering the truth behind the death of his colleague, getting involved.
Maradona linked to Chelsea
Coogan’s driving companion on The Trip, Rob Brydon, is among the cast for the feel-good British dramedy Blinded by the Light (74; Sep 19) in which a troubled Asian kid in 1980s Britain finds salvation in the music of Bruce Springsteen – one of four films heartily recommended in what is a strong issue for cinema.
Joaquin Phoenix is an even-money favourite to win the Best Actor Oscar for Joker (75; Oct 3), but clearly the critics weren’t completely blown away by the film.
More popular is Ad Astra (81; Sep 19) starring Brad Pitt (9/1 to win the award, but surely odds on to take the best supporting gong for beating up Bruce Lee) as an astronaut who must confront his father (Tommy Lee Jones) in outerspace to save humanity.
And while Toy Story 4 (84; Aug 29) is back with the safest formula ever known to humanity – Tom Hanks, cowboys, astronauts – we’re going to go out on a limb and say that In the Shadow of the Moon (Sep 27 on Netflix) looks like it could be a deliciously creepy serial killer film. Directed by Jim Mickle (Hap and Leonard) and starring Boyd Holbrook (Narcos S1) and Michael C Hall (Dexter himself), it has the ingredients to succeed.
Elsewhere, familiar stories continue with It: Chapter 2 (59; Sep 5), Rambo 5: Last Blood (NRW; Sep 19) and Downton Abbey (NRW; Sep 26); Senna documentary maker Asif Kapadia turns his observant eye onto Diego Maradona (75; Sep 5), with the world’s most famous transgender soldier also on the chopping block (er, is that appropriate) in XY Chelsea (60; Oct 7); and Good Boys (60; Sep 12) is yet another coming-of-age dramedy starring Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder), this decade’s Macaulay Culkin.
Mopping up the dregs, Tall Girl (Sep 13 on Netflix) reminds us that it can be tough being 187 cm and looking for love; Late Night (71; Sep 12) follows in the trail of The Big Sick with a tail about an US-Asian assistant who eventually wears down TV host Emma Thompson’s Devil Wears Prada homage; Triple Threat (60; Aug 29) is a kung fu beat me up or off medley with an improbably high rating; and female mobster flick The Kitchen (36; Sep 26) blows the men away and some serious ass.
In between the lines
Over on TV land, the pick of the month is serial killer slow-burner Unbelievable (77; Sep 13 on Netflix), while Temple (Sep 13 on HBO Nordic) is a remake of the Norwegian show Valkyrien starring the ever dependable Mark Strong and Daniel Mays. The Politician (Sep 27 on Netflix) comes with echoes of the Reese Witherspoon film Election, meanwhile.
Elsewhere, Netflix has Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father (S3; Sep 6) and Vis a Vis (S4; Sep 27); HBO Nordic has the glorious Mr InBetween (S2; Sep 13), Ballers (S5; Aug 26), Room 104 (S5; Sep 26), Into the Badlands (S3; Sep 5), The Deuce (S2; Sep 10) and Mayans MC (S2; Sep 4); and C More has the compelling Mr Mercedes (S3; Sep 11) and ever-popular Peaky Blinders (S5; Sep 5), as well as long awaited seasons of Line of Duty (S3; Sep 1) and Keeping Faith (S2; Sep 1).
And finally, London-set film dramas Phantom Thread (Sep 25 on Netflix) and Darkest Hour (Sep 18 on Netflix) are making overdue Danish bows – but don’t hold your breath that there are any comedic actors involved. It’s not like anyone smiled during the war.