'The Man With Four Legs' review
This post was originally published on the Britflicks website on 2nd April 2017.
Director: Ed Christmas
Starring: Richard Southgate, Simon Dobson, Daniel Ormerod & Terry Sweeney
In film-making, mixing genres has seen many a fledgling filmmaker come undone.
Veer too much towards comedy and you risk your characters becoming unrelatable caricatures. Too much towards thriller or drama, the danger doesn’t feel real and the comedy falls flat. In Ed Christmas’s feature debut THE MAN WITH FOUR LEGS - marketed as a comedy/drama/thriller - he bravely tries to juggle the three genres. Though he’s not entirely successful, there’s enough humour in the central performances to squeak a passing grade.
The film follows three wannabe documentary makers investigating the mysterious case of newly amnesiac James. Their leader is director Angus (Richard Southgate), a self-aggrandising rich twit who wheedles, cajoles, and manipulates his way to a ‘scoop’. He’s aided by lunk-headed sidekick Tom (Daniel Ormerod) and sensitive, introverted cameraman Ethan (Terry Sweeney). Less interested in truth than entertainment, the documentary crew’s shameless ineptitude offers some pointed barbs at the industry. Some of the film’s best humour comes from their clumsy attempts to manufacture drama, all the while competing with Angus’s raging ego and James’s mysterious past.
As Ethan becomes drawn into discovering the truth, the initially laddish tone of the film veers into drama, something resembling empathy for the lost soul of James. Projected Super8 reveries at the beach shot offer a dream-like reflection on James’s mental state. Simon Dobson’s nicely understated performance paints him as grounded and sympathetic, resilient in the face of his affliction. A silent view of him grieving through a window is also surprisingly effective, giving the audience someone to root for among all the jokes about f-stops and lighting set-ups.
The film works as a sweetly enjoyable farce, its mockumentary style humour skewering its shallow and naive filmmakers. The relationship between James and Ethan also manages to add a subtle touch of pathos. It’s in the latter half of the film that it comes undone. The film takes an ill-advised descent into darkness, seeking to re-invent itself as a thriller. Its whimsical first half suddenly followed by a serious finale, it feels like two separate films stitched together. The ending has a blackly comic note, but it feels like a disservice to (some of) its protagonists.
While the film has its moments, the story ultimately lacks the strength in its latter half to be taken seriously enough as a thriller. The tonal shift is too abrupt, and its final joke not enough to save a leaden and po-faced last act. Lacking the thrills to be thrilling, it forgets about the comedy entirely. Angus’s shift from opportunistic gadfly to intimidating journo seems especially clumsy. We’re asked to take him seriously as he manhandles witnesses and demands the truth. Southgate’s relatable dope quickly becomes a tiresome parody, making a thoroughly unconvincing action hero.
Despite its jarring finish, it boasts some decent performances and has some occasionally funny things to say about our media-obsessed, entertainment-seeking culture. Even though he’s fluffed the landing, there’s enough in Ed Christmas’s debut to merit a look, with some decent performances keeping the whole thing afloat.