Irish director Ian Fitzgibbon impressed us last year with Perrier’s Bounty (2009), a darkly funny crime thriller which drew inevitable but fair comparisons with In Bruges (2008), amongst others. But this, his debut from 2008, has only just made it to this side of the Irish Sea: the cheekily titled A Film with Me in It (2008), starring Dylan Moran Fitzgibbon’s first effort treads a roughly similar path to his second, but the tone is darker, the pace is slower, the budget is noticeably smaller, and the success rate is generally lower – still, it has its moments.
Writer Mark Doherty casts himself in the lead as Mark, a down-on-his-luck, out-of-work actor who can’t get a break. The shy, nerve-ridden, softly spoken man is ignored by casting agents, nagged by his girlfriend and harassed by his landlord (an odd cameo from Keith Allen). His only friend is neighbour Pierce (the terrifically watchable Moran), a screenwriter with an idea for a thriller which begins to mirror events in his own life.
The opening act is slow, bleak and surprisingly dull, and it’s only once everyone starts dying that things begin to pick up. When it hits stride of sorts, A Film with Me in It reminds you of the rapid, morbid farce of The Ladykillers (1955), and there is certainly an Ealing feel to it, albeit with a sense of humour blacker than the night.
For a film to boast the comic talents of Moran and David O’Doherty (as Mark’s disabled brother) and squander them so carelessly is shameful. Moran shows flashes of his surrealist genius, but his character is light years away from Bernard Black; and O’Doherty is particularly wasted, playing the expressionless wheelchair-bound brother without speaking a single line of dialogue – which, if you have seen his dense, dry, Edinburgh-conquering stand-up, will be an even greater disappointment.
Even allowing for filmmaking inexperience, everything about A Film with Me in It is a little too sloppy, and much of the blame must fall on the woefully underwritten script. It has a decent premise that deserves snappy and poised dialogue, but it simply isn’t sharp enough, especially when you consider that the ‘screenwriter writing the events as they happen’ conceit (which lends the film its title) never enjoys enough attention. And the spectre of plot holes hangs heavy. Why, you will constantly ask yourself, doesn’t anyone simply call the police and accurately report the deaths as accidental, instead of tampering with corpses? It’s an oversight which endlessly frustrates.
You may find yourself occasionally laughing, if not from the belly – the sudden and farcical deaths, the irrational manic plans to cover them up, the somewhat unexpected conclusion. You want to like it. It boasts plenty of demonstrable talent and an appealingly wicked streak of black comedy. But A Film with Me in It needs far more polish. The straight-to-DVD release is perhaps understandable.