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Booze Cruise DVD boxset

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The Booze Cruise collection
cast: Martin Clunes, Neil Pearson, Mark Benton, Brian Murphy, and Ian Richardson

director: Paul Seed

300 minutes (12) 2003-5
ITV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Christopher Teague
During the 1950s and 1960s, a little film company in England produced a series of cinematic whimsy - albeit, in many instances, with a sardonic edge - and these were known has the Ealing comedies. This genre is what I believe the writing team of Brian Leveson and Paul Minett were trying to aim for with this production, a very middle-English farce involving the journey into France to purchase alcohol (but no cigarettes) at a far cheaper price.

It features four well-known faces, and all playing their respective types: Martin Clunes, as Clive the uptight ex-Etonian (or some other boarding school) who also has other pressing matters praying on his mind; Neil Pearson, the loveable rogue Rob, who does have the saving grace of running his own IT company; Brian Murphy's Maurice the antagonistic pensioner (a character no different to his George from George & Mildred). Like Clive Dunn, Murphy must have been playing pensioners since he was his thirties. There's also Mark Benton as Dave the overweight but nice enough bloke, who wouldn't harm a fly and won't say a bad word about anyone.

So far, so safe; you just know that this will be a comedy of sorts, a thought highlighted by the typically jolly incidental music. From the outset, you immediately get the tensions that form the ensemble: Clive and Rob by class; Rob and Maurice by sheer fact they're neighbours who don't get on; and poor Dave in the middle, mediating. Within this group, you also get Daniel who happens to be Clive's future son-in-law and accidental illegal immigrant once they cross the Channel, and the wives who by and large follow the same social type as their husbands.

As stated, Leveson and Minett were aiming high with this - a modern equivalent of Ealing, that unfortunately doesn't entirely work since their writing skill (nor the talent in front of the camera for that matter) could not equal the likes of Alec Guinness, Alastair Sim, et al, or William Rose (who wrote The Ladykillers) and the other stalwarts of that golden age of British comedy cinema. That's not to say The Booze Cruise (aka: Cheers And Tears) is bad - in fact it is a decent enough way to spend a couple of hours that won't tax the brain, which is where it also falls down: the running time. It rambles along, whereas a judicious amount of tightening in the script would have made quite a difference.

The second series, aired in 2005, and subtitled The Treasure Hunt had the late Ian Richardson as Marcus, taking over from Martin Clunes' toff, plus two more new faces as Daniel and Leoni (Rob's wife), but the trio of Benton, Pearson and Murphy remained, to undertake a weekend jolly in the country on the behest of some annual hunt for tat with their wives.

The third and final outing, subtitled The Scattering, dispensed entirely with Daniel, but retained Richardson's Marcus more or less as a cameo, and featured the plotline where everyone tagged along with Maurice and his wife, Grace (Anne Reid), to scatter the ashes of her mother on the Yorkshire Moors.

When I first watched each series on ITV, there was nothing remotely exciting about any of them. This is comedy that generates titters rather than guffaws of laughter, with its hackneyed jokes and situations. The casting, though, did help push episodes above the usual lame level of TV comedy: the sniping remarks between Rob and Clive (both at opposite ends of the class system); Rob and Maurice, neighbours at war, with poor Dave in the middle trying to keep the peace; the wives back at home realising just how silly their husbands are, and striking a blow for women's lib in one particular scene that involved a chainsaw.

The second story, though, was considerably weaker: Clunes jumped ship, and despite the highly-respected theatrical Ian Richardson, the class animosity between Marcus and Rob just didn't work - I'd hazard a guess not helped by a rather sad performance from Richardson who didn't really look to be putting too much effort into it. Plus the scenario itself of this so-called 'treasure hunt' was lame and uninspiring, but the main problem was probably due to the fact that the character dynamic became overloaded with the wives joining in on the trip - the first series worked because it was all men together and showed how their plans tend to end in disaster.

The third series, though, returned to the 'glory' days of the first: the wives regained their place in the people-carrier, but Marcus' character became relegated to just a quick telephone call from Dave. And so, with just Rob and Maurice left to bicker, I wasn't expecting to laugh at this more, but there were some genuinely funny moments.

Overall, Booze Cruise is not the best of TV comedy - nor is it the worst: series three is marginally funnier than one, with series two being the weakest in the link. It does highlight, though, how lacklustre TV comedy as become when you have to decide between three pieces of dross to find out which one was the brightest. There are better TV comedies out there, but if you really enjoyed this when it was originally broadcast then who am I to argue?

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