Released 2014. Written and directed by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison.
When the highest praise I can think of for a film is, ‘Well, it was definitely a film, not just a big TV episode’, then we’re in trouble. The Inbetweeners 2 is the latest in the long line of British sitcoms to enjoy a movie spin-off (indeed, as the title indicates, this series has spawned two cinema excursions), and it’s to its credit that it shows slightly in excess of no directorial ambition whatsoever. But that’s about all the credit I can give it.
It’s deserved credit, though… just about. Though its aesthetic is not inventive, it makes decent use of its wide frame and features some competently put-together set-pieces that have an intangible but clear cinematic feel to them. It fits comfortably in the modern category of Judd Apatow-produced, plain, visually tidy but tedious comedies. You know, that dull look that nobody’s complaining about for some reason. But saying that the film looked like a film is like saying that this review at least managed to be written in words set about in sentences. It barely exceeds that bare minimum. (I will make mention of one memorable set-piece – a turd chasing someone down a water slide is pretty damn funny. But even that is undersold. It’s turned into a reasonably dramatic chase, but it should be truly intense, played as if a mad serial killer with an axe is hunting down a limping victim.)
Make no mistake: The Inbetweeners was a very good TV programme. I didn’t watch it until recently, when the fact that the movie version had done well enough to deserve a sequel suggested that it can’t have been as bad as sitcom movies tend to be. I was taken aback by how honest the programme felt, how even though it showed a version of teenage life that I only partially related to, it didn’t alienate me (unlike, say, Skins), and how well-written its dialogue was. The first two series are wonderfully witty and crude in the very best way. It features Neil, a classic idiot who misunderstands everything, Jay, a classic loudmouth who has an insult for everyone and everything but remains likeable because of how insecure he clearly is, and Will and Simon, a couple of straight men who help to ground the world of the show but carry their own flaws and delusions too. The secret to the programme is how good-natured everything is. It’s teenage high-jinks, people missing the point, fighting, falling over, getting into sticky situations and everything else that I want to see, but always eventually being able to rely on each other for friendship and admit their mistakes. It’s crude as hell, and there’s conflict everywhere, but it’s sweet.
The third series became too aggressive and lost that heart, and the first movie picked up where the series left off, not only being too aggressive but also forgetting to have any jokes. I can’t deny that The Inbetweeners 2 made me laugh on a few occasions – some of that wit returned – but for the most part it’s even more aggressive than the previous iteration. Fundamentally, its characters are no longer nice people. It’s a real problem. Where they used to be kids laughing with each other at their respective screw-ups and enjoying harmonious friendship, they’re now simply horrible. There’s nothing good-natured about The Inbetweeners 2. The characters don’t have a positive attitude to anything, they’re self-serving and obnoxious. True, unlikeability is fine, but there needs to be something interesting to latch on to. Nothing of the sort is offered by The Inbetweeners 2. In a sentence, these kids are not people I want to spend any time with.
I emerged from the cinema exhausted for all the wrong reasons. It’s not an exhilarating watch (though it’s not without pace and motivation, in fairness). It’s just so hard to get along with these people, people who used to be such fun to be around. The film’s women are treated appallingly, all either sex objects or psychopaths. It has almost no jokes, and few of those are laughs that don’t make me feel dirty. Had this – or the first movie – been my introduction to The Inbetweeners, I’d have had no interest in discovering the TV series. It’s sad to see how much it’s degraded. My advice? Watch the first two series. The rest is a poor imitation of a witty, sweet, silly sitcom.