When you’re the creator of an iconic character it can be super difficult to get yourself out from under its shadow. Steve Coogan has tried to move away from just being the guy who plays Alan Partridge but nothing else has ever really stuck. Let’s be honest, he’s appeared in some utter shite over the years and it’s not been pretty. In more recent years he has made the move that most comedy performers over a certain age try and picked more serious roles. Gone straight if you will. It was a different story back in 2001 when he co-wrote and starred in his own British comedy crime caper. For some reason, when The Parole Officer came out it was constantly being compared to the Ealing crime comedies from the 1950s and 1960s. I guess there were just no real expectations for British comedies in the early 2000s so anything that got made was deemed kind of successful. It was the same year that the Vinnie Jones comedy vehicle Mean Machine and a film about a hairdresser from Keighley starring Alan Rickman were released, after all. When the greatest British comedy to be released that year was Bridget Jones’ Diary then maybe I can see why people got so excited. Nowadays, Coogan seems pretty embarrassed to have ever made the film and, in 2015, stated that he doesn’t understand why anyone likes it. I’ve known a load of people who loved this film but, really, they aren’t the kind of people who I would ever seek advice from. On any subject matter. However, it’s been a really long time since I saw this film so, after I so harshly critiqued it during my Tuesday review this week, I decided it was time to see if it really was as bad as I remembered.
Alan Partridge claimed The Parole Officer was “unarguably the greatest film ever made”. We have to assume that he’s at least a little biased, of course, on account of it being his creator, Steve Coogan’s film, and, you know, cause he’s a fucking fictional character. Rewatching the film in 2017 I was struck by 2 things: number 1, Stannis Baratheon and Cersei Lannister are both pretending to be British police officers and, number 2, this is a fucking awful film. It’s weird to think of a time when Steve Coogan was having to try so fucking hard to make it in Hollywood but this film is proof of the murky depths he was once willing to sink to. It’s sad and more cringe inducing than anything Alan Partridge has done in his illustrious career. The major positive I have for it is, because it was made during a time when British comedies tended not to wander too far beyond the 90 minute mark, it’s short. I mean it still felt like I was watching it for a good few days but, in reality, I didn’t actually have to waste too much time on it.
The Parole Officer is not a fresh British comedy and, instead, uses a really tired situation but with additionally gross-out gags. It’s trying to do the same thing that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg did so successfully just 3 years later with Shaun of the Dead but failing. With their Cornetto Trilogy, Wright and Pegg managed to repurpose the narratives of classic Hollywood genres for use in a UK landscape without it seeming too gimmicky. Here, Coogan and co-writer, Henry Normal, just lazily implant the premise of films like The Italian Job in the North of England. It just ends up being overly twee and nonsensical. It needed a more careful hand instead of just putting Coogan on a rollercoaster in Blackpool and calling it a day. It’s just infuriating to watch this film and know how much better it could have been. Instead, the narrative is just a mess that is full of holes, dropped storylines and so many awful attempts to push comedy where there shouldn’t be any.
Coogan, obviously, has the starring role as the titular Parole Officer, Simon Garden, who accidentally witnesses a murder carried out by a corrupt cop (Stephen Dillane). He is threatened with going to prison for the crime unless he shuts his mouth and leaves Manchester forever. In order to clear his name, Simon puts together a plan to rob a banks and retrieve a VHS tape showing the truth. He creates a crew using the only 3 criminals that he has successfully convinced to go straight and a teenage joy rider he was trying to help. At the same time, Simon is attempting to romance the way out of his league WPC Emmap (Lena Headey) who, for reasons not shown during the film, has fallen for the charms that nobody else seems to realise Simon has.
Despite boasting a great cast, everything about The Parole Officer feels kind of flat. The actors all do as great a job as they can but it never comes together. It always feels like we’re watching a terrible film instead of being engrossed in a fantastically woven tale. Although, Dillane is memorable as the bent copper who threatens Simon and the trio of ex-criminals fair much better than Coogan himself. It helps that they are played by the likes of Om Puri and Ben Miller, of course, but they all get some fairly decent moments. What is majorly disappointing is that none of the characters have any real depth. Coogan clearly has a talent for creating well-rounded characters but nobody, not even Simon, feels fleshed out. You don’t really know anything about anybody or why we should give a shit about them. This film is so desperate to get to the action and the gags that it skips the important stuff.
There is certainly an issue with pacing and editing in this film. The first 30 minutes are a confusing mess which feels as though major parts of the story have been cut. People suddenly talk to each other like old friends and seem to know things they really shouldn’t. And that’s exactly the point where you realise that you still have an hour of this shit to sit through. The script has a decent stab at creating some comedy to move things along but most of it falls flat in the end. There are a couple of really funny moments but, for the most part, it relies too heavily on physical comedy or gross-out gags. I can see why Steve Coogan regrets making this film. I regretted watching it again before I was even half-way through. There is very little to really celebrate here. It deserves props for getting such an amazing cast together but it ruins it by not giving them anything to do. Considering how great we know Coogan can be, The Parole Officer it’s even more insane that this film is as bad as it is.