Todd Phillips’ The Hangover (2009) has a lot to answer for. Not only did it spawn two unfortunate sequels, it has embedded a newfound fascination with lads-only tales where bromance and morals are tested to their very limits. This – along with those films’ basic narrative concept – is mimicked in Irish director John Butler’s debut feature The Stag (2013), a largely unfunny lads-on-tour comedy that sets about trying to match broad slapstick and enforced camaraderie with brash sentimentality, blending them together into an ultimately flaccid excursion into pre-nuptial chaos. Hugh O’Connor plays Fionnan, a husband-to-be deeply involved with his the wedding plans.
This has caused Fionnan’s fiancée Ruth (Amy Huberman) to find a way of coaxing out his dormant masculinity, challenging his fervent desire to not have a stag do (though he’d happily attend her hen). Ruth enlists Fionnan’s best friend Davin (Andrew Scott, a world away from his role as Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock) to step up to his duties as best man and organise a sedate sojourn in the Irish countryside. Accompanied by three other friends – Simon (Brian Gleeson) and couple Little Kevin (comedian Michael Legge) and Big Kevin (Andrew Bennett) – Fionnan and Davin depart on a trip fuelled by hiking and quiet drinks in the local pubs en route. However, when Fionnan’s soon-to-be brother-in-law The Machine (Peter McDonald) appears having invited himself along, all plans are thrown off course.
A volatile and mentally unhinged pyromaniac, The Machine makes it his mission to cause mayhem and put his sister’s intended to the test, causing tensions to flare and havoc to spread. Yet, what starts as the stag do from hell quickly turns into a journey to discovery, as secrets are confessed and hidden desires exposed, leading each attendee to call into question the man they’ve become and the relationships they’ve fostered. Comprised of gags that conflate stereotype – most notably a running joke about every Irishman’s love (or lack of) of U2, with slapstick that’s never played effectively enough to be humorous, The Stag – which Butler co-wrote with star McDonald – is a largely forgettable affair that seemingly revels in the lowest common denominator. Though each of its stars are clearly game, especially Scott, whose talents and nuance as an actor are far beyond this, Butler’s debut never quite achieves what it sets out to.