Shooting Fish The movie
The light and charming romantic comedy from the young British film-making team of co-writers Stefan Schwartz and Richard Holmes, who also directed and produced the film respectively, combines the traditions of screwball comedy with the "buddy" genre, updated by way of "slacker" films. The end product is an amusing and entertaining film that doesn't lose any of its effectiveness through the fact that you could take your mother to see it without embarrassment.
The plot concerns a pair of loveable twenty-five-ish con-men, Jez and Dylan (Stuart Townsend and Dan Futterman), homeless orphans who set out to enrich themselves at the expense of the greedy and powerful. Staying one breathless step ahead of disaster and ingeniously righting the wrongs of an unjust world, the two see themselves as latter-day, technologically-enhanced Robin Hoods.
At a critical moment in one of their scams, Georgie (Kate Beckinsale) an attractive "temp" they have hired to front the operation steps in to save the day, instantly becoming both an object of attraction and a partner in crime to the two men. The romantic triangle is the second plot line of the film.
How will the boys solve their complex problems, and who will end up with the girl are the two questions that keep us watching. The fantasy of the naive and innocent (if slightly amoral) underdog challenging and outwitting the corrupt and powerful is a popular theme in film.
From Chaplin and WC Fields to The Left Hand Of God, The Sting and Forrest Gump, the vicariously experienced victory of the "little man" is something to which audiences respond positively. As played out here, the theme is supported by an agile, witty script and fluent, natural performances.
The script, with the "tangled web" of plot lines and interactions typical for this sort of film doesn't get bogged down in trying to "explain" the fantasy. The plot unfolds in a sort of episodic format, where the focus of each sequence is self-contained, and links between sequences are implied rather than expressly stated. This allows the audience to move at the film's sprightly pace without spending time trying to reconcile various plot lines.
And pace is one key to the film's success. Schwartz propels his characters through the film with a brisk buoyancy that never seems forced. Between the lively tempo of the dialogue, dynamic camera work and editing that is vigorous yet fluid - never jerky - the vibrant enthusiasm of the main characters is successfully conveyed. Their youth, energy and optimism are celebrated almost as an end in themselves. On one level it is the enjoyment of the resilient, indomitable, inventive spirit of youth that is the actual subject of the film.
The three protagonists are neither materialistic, scholastic/corporate drudges (although Georgie is studying to be a doctor - in England, where medicine is still partly an altruistic pursuit), nor cynical, selfish criminals. Rather they are "outlaws" in the best "Robin of Locksley" tradition (Georgie even turns out to be a peer), wise-cracking, highly-competent iconoclasts with a strong, if unconventional, moral sense.
Given the flimsy silliness of the plot, which falls apart under the slightest scrutiny (but then, so do It Happened One Night and My Man Godfrey), the responsibility of keeping us interested rides entirely on the back of clever dialogue and sincere performances. The movie delivers with both. Kate Beckinsale, as Georgie, has a natural charm, good-looks that spring from the vivacity of her pliable face and coltish body-language. Her vaguely tomboyish Georgie is a humanist who happens to be feminist by the accident of being female.
Stuart Townsend, as Jez, effectively combines the technical proficiency, emotional insecurity and high-spirited anarchism of late adolescence. Dan Futterman, as Dylan, does the smooth-talking-thing with style and grace, but manages to transmute his opportunistic, cynical side into the soon to be abandoned arrogance of youth. The three make their characters appealing and vulnerable.
The film has what might be called as "indie polish." Without the budgets of big studio films, independently produced films like this have to depend on ordinary things done very well, rather than crane shots or computer generated special effects. Simple camera work combined with effective - but not flashy - editing, creates a very accessible framework for the story. It never makes one sit back exclaiming "what a great shot!" and distancing oneself from the story.
A well-selected sound-track of upbeat, bouncy, alternative-rock music helps propel the film at a lively pace. Set design that is appropriately playful and throw-away contemporary costuming that looks completely natural give the film another indie trademark that grows out of low-budget necessity: the verisimilitude of working with materials at hand, the clothes and backgrounds of everyday reality.
This is not a deep film, although there is lots of irreverent social and political satire in a typically British vein - most notably a running series of references to the "new Andrew Lloyd Weber show, Dogs." But the combination of attractive characters, clever repartee and effective support in terms of the production values makes this lightweight vehicle float like a drunken butterfly for an enjoyable hour and a three-quarters.
That's my take on it. What's yours?