Running Time: 83 min
Director: Peter Foott
Cast: Alex Murphy, Chris Walley, Hilary Rose, Dominic MacHale, P.J. Gallagher, Shane Casey
(Movie House Dublin Road 05/12/16)
Irish buddy comedy about two chavs from Cork who hit the road when cocaine starts washing up on the coastline.
In the summer of 2007, unseasonably choppy weather off West Cork threw a spanner in a long-running cocaine smuggling operation that had been taking advantage of the coastline’s lax security. Hostile waters spilled the smugglers’ ivory product – worth €440 million in total – overboard, washing up in snugly packed sacks on Dunlough Bay and making national headlines. It’s the sort of can-you-believe-it freak occurrence that your “funny” Facebook friends would go to town on now. Inspired by the haul comes Peter Foott’s feature debut, The Young Offenders, an energetic and surprisingly charming buddy road comedy about two lads from the Cork estates who, restless, wide-eyed and bored with their lot, catch news reports of the lucrative investment spilling onto the Irish shore and hop on their bikes to grab a slice of the bounty.
At first glance, The Young Offenders seems a little suspect in a low-hanging-fruit sort of way, downward-punching comedy with an easy classist target; a drug-happy buddy trip into gross-out stupidity like an Irish Kevin & Perry Go Large. And, at least at first, the film feels a little like that, introducing us to best friends Conor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley), tracksuit teens decked out in matching bum-fluff taches and cheap gold bling.
Glum-faced Conor works in the market’s fish stand with his mother (Republic of Telly‘s Hilary Rose), whose expression is permanently fixed on scolding-disappointed. Jock, nicknamed after the only pair of trunks he owns, spends his days dealing with an alcoholic widower father, nicking bikes and playing cat and mouse games with Sergeant Healy, the obsessed local Guard and his own personal Ahab, played by Dominic MacHale. Conor’s first scene has his mother bursting into the bedroom with tea, interrupting his enthusiastic bout of self-love under the sheets, a gag with the harrid whiff of mouldy teenage socks. But, quite quickly, the solid joke-writing, relaxed comic performances and the film’s essentially sympathetic eye start doing their work. Foott, who produced and directed the Rubberbandits’ popular ‘Horse Outside’ music video, and helped write various Republic of Telly sketches, has an eye for good-humoured, slightly off-kilter renditions of Irish hootenanny, expressed in The Young Offenders with a slick sense of rhythm.
When Conor and Jock hit the road, pedaling through the expansive Cork landscape, the movie opens up, becoming more playful and visually confident, and the dim-witted pair make fun road companions. They’re not exactly seasoned travellers, but the pull of some spectacular escape from low horizons keeps them moving and gives some stakes to their quest (inevitably, it all doesn’t go to plan, and it’s a little heart-breaking). Whether due to limited resources or decent comic sense, Foott keeps the plot light: unlike many other similar movies build on a series of travelling japes, the boys don’t get tangled up in some unconvincing criminal conspiracy of car chases or gunfights. When the closet thing to a bad guy (P. J. Gallagher) finally emerges, he is just as pathetic in his own way as the misguided pair who stumble on his stash. The focus remains the friendship between misfits who feel like they only really have eachother, a bond they can barely articulate without embarrassment (‘Jock makes me feel… warm’ Conor explains to his mother).
With its tight whips, some lean editing, bursts of pop soundtrack and the occasional pop culture reference (there’s a fab riff on Heat‘s De Niro/Pacino scene), some of The Young Offenders recalls Edgar Wright’s earlier work, especially Spaced‘s sympathy for the fuck-ups and drifters of the world. Foott achieves an effective balancing act between jokes, heart and the boys’ grim reality, and the film moves quickly, not outstaying its welcome, bouncing along with the youthful vigour of its chancer heroes.
The likely (to laugh) lads.