Enduring a miserable time on their first get-together after leaving school, Will (Bird), Simon (Thomas) and Neil (Harrison) decide to head to Australia on the spur of the moment to visit their old mucker Jay (Buckley), who’s apparently knee-deep in clun... sex. But when they get there, they find the opposite is true, forcing them to embark on a road trip across Oz...
There are 45 million reasons why the Inbetweeners - despite all initial vows to the contrary - are back for a second outing on the big screen. That’s how much money The Inbetweeners Movie took at the UK box office back in 2011, a huge surprise for a cheap throwaway expansion of a popular E4/C4 sitcom that found itself, propelled by admittance to the cultural mainstream, rapidly becoming the most successful British comedy of all time. Very quickly, ‘nevers’ from the brand’s (yes, brand) cast and creators, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, became ‘never say never agains’, and here we are.
And yet there were also 45 million reasons why Morris and Beesley could have been forgiven for coasting this one, for phoning it in, going on a greatest hits tour of the lads’ legacy – a clunge here, a bus wankers there. Commendably, though, they didn’t, stepping up to the plate as directors and delivering a movie that, although patchy in places, delivers three or four of the funniest movie moments of the year.
We’ll admit - the signs weren’t promising, with relatively laugh-free trailers and the usually tell-tale sign of a stinker: no screenings. The film is slow to start, too, with a clunky and overly stylised opening setting up the misery for three of our central quartet, while another fantasy sequence, reintroducing Jay as a kind of superstar DJ-cum-Scarface (with the emphasis on 'cum'), is deliberately overdone, although the laughs don’t necessarily follow.
But it’s all foreplay, designed to get the Rudge Park regulars together down under, and with not even a moment’s rest to assimilate to the time difference or get over the jetlag, the game is quickly afoot. A chance encounter with Katie (Emily Berrington), an old, and very attractive, schoolfriend of Will’s in a Sydney nightclub sets our heroes on a path that will take them across Australia to the sort of outback setting you’d expect to find in Wake In Fright or Wolf Creek. Along the way, they will be bruised, battered and covered in almost every bodily function under the sun. In fact, there will actually be a bodily function under the sun.
Post-Farrellys, gross-out humour has become so easy to get wrong. Here, Beesley and Morris attack it with a near-operatic gusto that finds the funnybone just beyond the small intestine - the puking is of a level not seen since Mr. Creosote had his last bite, the piss flows like wine, and in its standout sequence, a faeces/face interface is treated with the overwrought gravitas of Willem Dafoe’s death scene in Platoon. It’s gloriously OTT, and utterly hilarious. Only spunk is left off the menu, perhaps thankfully, and even then it’s constantly namechecked and described as a ‘salty smoothie’.
But, even though this is a movie where the main characters are almost exclusively obsessed with bottoms (front and back), there’s a genuine heart as the four friends bicker amongst themselves, but finally realise that - just like the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy - that they’re stronger together in the face of overwhelming circumstances. There’s less of a feel of finality about this instalment than perhaps anticipated - no grandstanding speeches about the future, no heartbreaking realisation that, as with so many school friendships, it will all change once uni, jobs and life get in the way - but it’s no less affecting or sweet-natured for all that.
Bird’s Will has been the narrator and focus from the off, and that remains the case here. Consequently, he gets most to do, whether it’s his strangled falsetto on a campfire rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (the second memorable appearance for that song on the big screen this year), or finally unleashing his building torrent of suppressed rage in a world-class rant about the hypocrisy of middle-class gap year backpackers and holiday-makers, the sort who gobble up Eat Pray Love like it's scripture.
Yet Beesley and Morris – who direct breezily, with real pace and confidence enough, for example, to hold one shot for so long it becomes the franchise’s equivalent of Sideshow Bob’s rakes jokes - are smart enough to make sure the other three get plenty to do, too. Buckley again manages to suggest genuine pain beneath Jay’s schtick, which otherwise would wear very thin very quickly, Thomas - as the painfully earnest Simon - still does blank-eyed panic to perfection as he tries desperately to get out of a poisonous relationship, while Harrison as the guileless but sweet Neil gets many of the funniest moments, able to redeem any situation with a gormless expression or vacant one-liner. He’s nothing less than the human Groot. If any Inbetweener deserves to become a plushie, it’s him.
It’s not entirely a little ripper, though. Some of the crassness does feel a touch mean, a trifle unearned, some of the Aussie stereotypes a little too well-worn, while some jokes, including one involving a trained dolphin, simply float lifelessly in the water. Meanwhile, the women characters in the series continue, disappointingly, to be less than one-dimensional, invariably weak-willed or psychotic, or both.
But then that pretty much describes everyone that the guys run into - and, for all the quirk of the supporting cast, it’s never been about them. It’s about the Inbetweeners themselves. And this movie celebrates that. It’s never better than when the quartet are all together, especially at the end when they find themselves confronting the big issues in the searing heat of the outback. If this is to be their swansong – after all, they’re getting a bit too old to be inbetween anything - then it’s a fine note on which to end. However, never say never say never again again. Isn’t everything a trilogy these days?
The Fannytastic Four leave us on a poo-flecked, piss-soaked, sun-burned high that more than overcomes its familiar flaws to become a real contender for the year’s funniest film. Four star wankers.