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Big Nothing Review

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Charlie (Schwimmer), an unemployed teacher, meets Gus (Pegg) during a stint in a call centre and they team up with Gus’ former beauty queen ex, Josie (Eve), for a supposedly foolproof blackmail scheme.

★★★★★

It’s almost impossible to correctly categorise this strange genre crossover. On the one hand, it’s a comedy — as you’d expect given the starring roles went to two of the most accomplished comedic TV actors of recent years, David Schwimmer and Simon Pegg. On the other, a plot that starts fluffy and light is soon as overcast as the Oregon skies under which it is set, as events twist startlingly towards mayhem and murder.

It’s a difficult balancing act to pull off, and director Andrea, in only his second film, sometimes veers too far to one side or the other. The earliest scenes are pure caper movie, from a slightly hackneyed joke about a badly-handled customer services call to the zippy beginnings of a grand scheme between the two new friends and pushy teen princess Josie (Alice Eve playing half-sex kitten, half-pest). In contrast, as the bodies pile up and the tone turns pitch black, there’s an argument that things get too bleak — by the third act it feels like you’re watching a completely different film.

Andrea’s biggest achievement is that he makes this change gradual — misunderstandings and mistakes pile on each other in a way that is openly farcical, but wihout denying that the consequences of all this are deadly serious, transforming the farce by some strange alchemy into nuggets of noir. And with things moving at breakneck pace (the whole thing is only 85 minutes), you barely have time to question it.

Even if you were in doubt, the cast are good enough to paper over any narrative cracks. Schwimmer plays his usual sad-sack schtick as Charlie, but manages to add layers that distinguish him from, say, Ross Geller, while Pegg abandons the nice-guy-loserdom of his previous roles to play a less appealing, rather greasier little man with big plans. Even down to the smallest role (blink and you’ll miss Mimi Rogers) it’s clear that the casting budget was well spent, with Natascha McElhone and Jon Polito managing to inject character even into tiny roles.

So is there any future in the noir caper genre? Well, perhaps. Beautifully shot in grey, black and neon, and mixing humour and horror in equal measure, this marks director Andrea out as one to watch, and offers the always-welcome sight of someone stumbling around with an axe in their forehead.

The tone shift is a little too extreme for mainstream success, but Schwimmer and Pegg provide a solid, blackly comic centre to an original crime caper.

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