Safety Guaranteed – ★★
John Butler’s The Stag arrived in Ireland amidst a whirlwind of publicity – closing night gala of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Late Late Show appearances and countless posters all across the capital. Alongside the Brendan Gleeson-starring Calvary which hits cinemas in early April, it has managed to feel like the big Irish film of the year with its release feeling like a big oul national event.
Irish acting stalwart Hugh O’Conor plays Fionnan, a Dublin-based set designer in line to be married to Ruth (Amy Huberman). He reluctantly agrees to go on a stag weekend to the countryside with some of his friends, headed up by best man Davin (Andrew Scott aka BBC Sherlock’s Moriarty). He drafts in the two Kevins (a gay couple – shock horror) and Simon (Brian Gleeson – yes another son of Brendan) to make up the numbers, but a spanner in the works arrives in the form of THE MACHINE (Ruth’s brother), played with gusto by Peter McDonald, a man best known to most of us nowadays as the Dad in Sky One’s Moone Boy. It’s meant to feel like an all-star cast by Irish standards but your Mum and Dad would be hard placed to name any of them other than Brian O’Driscoll’s missus.
While the film may have ended up being marketed as Ireland’s answer to The Hangover, really that accolade went to last year’s rambunctious Harry Bucks Movie. Instead this is a much more sterile and placid film which tries to focus on character growth and safe laughs. The real centre-piece of the show is THE MACHINE, with McDonald also taking a co-writing credit with director Butler. His annoying character is meant to be the guy who breaks the group apart but – spoiler alert – he ends up being the man who actually brings them closer together. In fairness to him he ends up with most of the film’s funniest lines but it’s hard to really connect with him as he’s such a caricature of the crazy, partying guy who lacks any emotional intelligence. It’s also hard to buy into the fact that an entire group of people would be so blasé about calling a grown man by this THE MACHINE moniker. “Hey THE MACHINE, fancy a coffee?”. And so on.
The emotional heart of the film is meant to be held by Davin who still harbours feelings for Ruth who he went out with long before she ever started doing a line with Fionnan. Ultimately he’s vilified for staying quiet and not falling out of love, and it’s all a bit hard to take. There’s a great scene close to the end of the film where Davin goes for a walk where the whole film could have been saved if he’d topped himself but alas things work out quite differently. Scott is a brilliant character actor, but he’s too weird to generate any true audience empathy here.
The film had so much potential to be a post-recessionary story about what it means to be an Irish male in your 30s or 40s, but really it doesn’t say anything. There’s throwaway nods to gay marriage, drug use, marriage woes and financial ruin but it briskly moves on before you can think too much about anything. You’ll get a few cheap laughs but really it’s one worth waiting until it shows up as an RTÉ Midweek Movie option in a year or two.
Released in cinemas across Ireland on March 7th 2014