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Kill Your Friends review: James Corden's a horrid mess... in this nasty excuse for a comedy: This is vulgar, writes BRIAN VINER 





By Brian Viner for the Daily Mail

Published: 20:51 EST, 29 October 2015 | Updated: 21:01 EST, 29 October 2015

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Kill Your Friends (18)

Verdict: Nasty black comedy 

Rating:

Under Milk Wood (15)

Verdict: Surreal take on Thomas classic

Rating:

While James Corden’s late-night career on American TV goes from strength to strength, heaven knows what his CBS paymasters will make of his latest movie role, as an unkempt, cocaine-addicted music business executive in the gruesomely unfunny, pitch-black comedy Kill Your Friends.

Corden, as we all know only too well, is more than willing to strip down to his underwear in pursuit of a laugh. But the laughs here are of the distinctly uneasy if not downright queasy variety, as his character Roger, off his head on drink and drugs, lies half-naked and comatose, being contemptuously urinated upon by his misanthropic colleague Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult).

It’s a deeply unpleasant spectacle, yet tame by comparison with what comes next.

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Corden, as we all know only too well, is more than willing to strip down to his underwear in pursuit of a laugh. But the laughs in Kill Your Friends are of the distinctly uneasy if not downright queasy variety

Corden, as we all know only too well, is more than willing to strip down to his underwear in pursuit of a laugh. But the laughs in Kill Your Friends are of the distinctly uneasy if not downright queasy variety

Stelfox, like Roger, is a talent-spotter or ‘A&R man’, who actually has no respect for music or musicians but is so psychotically ambitious that he is prepared to murder anyone who impedes his rise up the corporate ladder at Unigram Records. And those he doesn’t murder, he frames, in one case by downloading images of child porn onto an office computer.

There are no taboos in Kill Your Friends. The script, adapted from his own satirical 2008 novel by John Niven, makes enthusiastic use of paedophilia, Aids, rape, incest and the Holocaust, among other subjects not known for their comedy value, in its relentless drive to shock.

Director Owen Harris, making his feature-film debut, pulls no punches either with the graphically explicit murder scenes.

But what is even more shocking is the presence of so much acting talent (not only Hoult and Corden, but also Rosanna Arquette as a powerful music producer) in a film that does not so much scream as bludgeon its debt to American Psycho and The Wolf Of Wall Street, without being remotely as good as either. And I write as one who didn’t much care for The Wolf Of Wall Street.

Stelfox is the would-be wolf of Denmark Street, London’s answer to Tin Pan Alley. The backdrop is the lively Britpop, Cool Britannia scene of 1997, and early on we see a poster featuring a grinning Tony Blair over the caption: ‘Because Britain deserves better.’

Of course, Blair tried shamelessly to ride the Cool Britannia wave, but if this film is anything to go by, it was propelled mainly by coke-addled moral delinquents.

Nicholas Hoult plays a talent-spotter who has no respect for music or musicians but is so psychotically ambitious that he is prepared to murder anyone who impedes his rise up the corporate ladder

Nicholas Hoult plays a talent-spotter who has no respect for music or musicians but is so psychotically ambitious that he is prepared to murder anyone who impedes his rise up the corporate ladder

On the other hand, this film is not much to go by. The best satire is rooted in truth, and while there might be more than a few grains of it in Stelfox’s conviction that the music industry is driven only by a passion for profit, he is too much of a caricature to believe in, and far too irredeemably horrid to root for.

Spending quite so much time in his company, listening to his glib narration (another steal from The Wolf Of Wall Street), feels like being force-fed your least favourite food.

The film is not entirely unpalatable. The deranged, decadent excess yields a few genuinely entertaining moments, and there’s some fun to be had from a Spice Girls-type band who can’t stop squabbling.

I also quite liked the shabby, Columbo-style detective investigating Roger’s murder (played by Edward Hogg, though at first I thought it was David Tennant, which would have been another shock).

The cop turns out to be a wannabe songwriter, quite willing to supress the policing effort when Stelfox dangles the prospect of a contract.

‘When it comes to aspiring musicians there really is no limit to their level of delusion,’ remarks Stelfox, caustically.

True enough, I don’t doubt. But the principal delusion here is surely on the part of those who think that such a thoroughly nasty film will find a large and appreciative audience.

Showing a fondness for overtly sexual and in particular phallic imagery, Allen strains too hard to make Under Milk Wood - starring Charlotte Church, centre, as Polly Garter - a feast for the eyes as much as the ears

Showing a fondness for overtly sexual and in particular phallic imagery, Allen strains too hard to make Under Milk Wood - starring Charlotte Church, centre, as Polly Garter - a feast for the eyes as much as the ears

It is similarly hard to imagine folk flocking to see Under Milk Wood, Kevin Allen’s surreal, big-screen version of a play that Dylan Thomas, for perfectly sound and too often-overlooked reasons, wrote for radio.

It’s always good to wallow in the rich lyricism of Thomas’s lines, and to relish such images as a ‘starless and bible-black’ night, and a ‘slow, black, crow-black fishing boat-bobbing sea’.

Moreover, the 1972 film version has an enduring cultural significance for all kinds of reasons, including the stellar contributions of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole, and that of the unknown David Jason, playing Nogood Boyo.

Pleasingly, Allen pays homage here, with a fleeting glimpse of a headstone marked ‘Richard Walter Jenkins’, Burton’s real name.

But otherwise he ploughs his own furrow, and it’s a disconcertingly strange one. Showing a fondness for overtly sexual and in particular phallic imagery, Allen strains too hard to make Under Milk Wood a feast for the eyes as much as the ears.

It’s always good to wallow in the rich lyricism of Dylan Thomas’s lines, writes Brian Viner, and to relish such images as a ‘starless and bible-black’ night, and a ‘slow, black, crow-black fishing boat-bobbing sea’

It’s always good to wallow in the rich lyricism of Dylan Thomas’s lines, writes Brian Viner, and to relish such images as a ‘starless and bible-black’ night, and a ‘slow, black, crow-black fishing boat-bobbing sea’

The result is that Thomas’s affectionate, mickey-taking and admittedly ribald tales of Llareggub, the Welsh fishing village inhabited by such gloriously memorable characters as ‘Organ’ Morgan and Willy Nilly, are rendered nigh-on incomprehensible.

This is a shame, because some of the principality’s most starry names are on board. That doesn’t, alas, include Catherine Zeta-Jones or even Carol Vorderman as back-street dominatrix Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, but it does give us (co-producer) Rhys Ifans as the narrator, while Charlotte Church appears to enjoy herself as lusty Polly Garter.

 

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Kill Your Friends review: James Corden's a horrid mess... in this nasty excuse for a comedy: This is vulgar, writes BRIAN VINER 
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He is a leading authority on business trends including ‘big data’, self-employment and the social media revolution. He’s the author of the award-winning book, Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley) and a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV. He has spoken about global mega trends, big data and the social media revolution at conferences and business events around the world .

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