The Italians did it better

Film - Philip Kerr on a comedy that made him laugh only once - at the end credits

Sometimes, to understand what has happened in a movie, you have to wait until the end. Not the end of the movie, you understand, but the end of the end credits. That is why, when everyone else has left the theatre, anoraks like me will often stay on until they see the Dolby Noise Reduction logo. Next time you're in a cinema, take a look at these anoraks. Unlike you, they are probably looking for a clue as to how someone ever thought such a terrible script was worthy of the green light.

For example, if you're ever unlucky enough to watch Louis Malle's film Crackers (1984) right through to the Dolby, you will by then have seen that the movie is based on a classic Roman comedy of 1958 called I Soliti Ignoti. (That's Italian for "persons unknown".) So imagine my surprise when, on reaching the Dolby at the end of Welcome to Collinwood (2002), my feelings of disappointment, ennui, irritation and contempt were supplemented by a strong sense of deja vu. For I then discovered that this so-called comedy is also based on I Soliti Ignoti - which was about the point where, finally, I started to laugh. That's right. During the end credits. Incredible as it may seem, with one dreadful remake of Mario Monicelli's film already in the can (and, for that matter, the critical waste-paper basket), here we have another equally dreadful remake, this one produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.

Who told these guys they knew how to pick film projects? These are the two clowns who brought us the remake of Oceans 11 (cretinous), followed by the remake of Solaris (very boring), followed by this remake of I Soliti Ignoti (soulless), and who are currently hard at work remaking the Argentinian thriller Nine Queens, which was a huge hit in its homeland. All of which moves me to suggest a remake that they might actually be equal to, given their track record. I'd like to see Clooney playing Max Bialystock and Steven Soderbergh as Leo Bloom in a remake of Mel Brooks's The Producers. Commissioning some of the worst scripts ever written would appear to be something they're good at.

Monicelli's movie starred the great Marcello Mastroianni as a photographer who brings together an ensemble of completely incompetent thieves in order to pull off what, he promises everyone, will be an easy job. The heart of this film lies in the poverty and frustration that surround the characters; it is also distinguished by an excellent performance from the great comedian Toto, and by the neorealist photography of Gianni Di Venanzo, who went on to work for Fellini and Antonioni. Most important of all, however, Monicelli's movie has charm, for there is something rather endearing about characters whose inherent kindness gets in the way of their criminal careers.

By contrast with Monicello's film, Welcome to Collinwood, "written" and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, has no charm at all. It is not enough to hire a clutch of excellent American actors (William H Macy, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter and Luis Guzman) and expect them to turn this movie into a classic comedy caper. For one thing, there's a miserable lack of realism about the whole scenario that did not afflict the original. Worst of all, the actors are clearly all possessed of the absolute certainty that the whole set-up of the movie is hilarious - so much so that they hardly bother to convince us that any of this is for real. It's all for laughs. Unfortunately, all of the laughs are theirs, not ours.

Least convincing of all is George Clooney, in a small supporting role as a safecracker in a wheelchair. That might be funny. But not this time. Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) looked more convincing as a man who had lost the use of his legs than Clooney does here. Clooney may handle a wheelchair with the same confidence as did Jon Voight in Coming Home (1978), but looking at him, you always have the feeling that it wouldn't take much more than a word from David Icke to persuade this particular cripple to pick up his bed and walk.

The DVD, which shows the cast and crew hanging out, joshing each other, playing basketball and catching rays of reflected glamour from Clooney, only goes to prove that someone paid $12m to give them a lot more fun than is going to be had by anyone watching this film.

Welcome to Collinwood (15) is on general release

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