Every so often I forget just how mean-spirited and carnaptious I can be.
Then I read something like this...
Horrid Henry 3D
When Wes Craven’s gruesome grindhouse classic The Last House On The Left was released back in 1971, its hugely successful advertising campaign included the now infamous tagline: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating – it's only a movie...it’s only a movie…” It’s advice you should take if, at any point this Summer, you should find yourself in a cinema watching Horrid Henry 3D.
When our titular hero, rambunctious scamp Horrid Henry (Theo Stevenson) fails, yet again, to do his homework, he sets in motion a chain of events that sees his teacher, the strict Miss Battle-Axe (Anjelica Huston. Yup, you read that right, Anjelica F***ing Huston is in this movie!), fired and his school, Ashton Primary, closed down by corrupt school inspectors in the pay of the evil Vic Van Wrinkle (Richard E. Grant. Boo! Hiss!), Headmaster of posh private school Brick House. Faced with the horror of being sent to Our Lady Giddiantus School for Girls (don’t ask, it’s a running joke that’s not funny), Henry is forced into an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, Moody Margaret (Scarlett Stitt), and his little brother, Perfect Peter (Ross Marron), as he tries to win TV talent show Too Cool For School and save the school he’s always hated.
There’s always difficulties when trying to translate a much-loved children’s book to the screen. Too reverent and you end up with the tedium of the first few Harry Potter movies or the soporific Narnia movies. Try to cram too much in and you get a misfire like The Golden Compass. Stray too far from the original story and you get a joyless 90 minutes of daddy issues and shoe-gazing like Where The Wild Things Are. Every so often however filmmakers get it right, with movies like Elf and Matilda. Films that don’t treat children like pint-sized half-wits with the attention span and manners of a bonobo. Films that treat children with respect and credit them with a modicum of intelligence and wit (yes, even the simplest fart joke can be witty if done well). Horrid Henry 3D would dearly love to be one of those films. Unfortunately, it is not.
Lacking the wit and innate intelligence Mother Nature gave the Lassa virus, Horrid Henry 3D, based on a series of award-winning children’s books by Francesca Simon, is precisely the sort of twitching cinematic abortion only the British film industry can deliver when desperately chasing American audiences. Bold and bright, with a palette of primary colours that make the film look like Willy Wonka threw up on a waltzer, Horrid Henry for at least two-thirds of its running time is a breathless rush from one largely pointless scene to the next as the ‘mischievious’ Henry sings, dances, raps, farts and soliloquises his way through this tension and incident-free, live-action cartoon. The script is awful; don’t worry about the story, don’t even think about the story…the filmmakers clearly haven’t, so why should you?
Packed full of the cream of British acting and comedy talent, all desperately mugging in panto-fashion, the film is about as amusing as a truckload of razor-wielding, self-harming, AIDS-monkeys crashing into a paediatric ward full of pre-pubescent haemophiliacs. Noel Fielding turns up for a bit doing his customary stoned, glam-rock, child-catcher schtick, Jo Brand is a veggie stew dispensing dinner lady, Mathew Horne makes that face he usually makes when his fat mate’s being a twat and Richard E. Grant provides yet more proof that no decent actor has ever come from Swaziland.
The kids are horrible. As Henry, Theo Stevenson turns in a performance so bad, so obnoxious, you‘ll want to shoot him in the face. Something Colin Farrell did to the little moppet in his first film In Bruges. Unfortunately, no-one thought to cast Colin in Horrid Henry 3D so much as you may hope, much as you may pray, that little Theo takes a double-tap to the head, it never comes. The rest of the kids are stage school spawn, a many-headed Hydra of precocious youth that’ll make you weep for the future. Singling one out for criticism is a little like singling out your least favorite National Socialist. You wouldn’t want to have any of them over for lunch. Besides…sever one head, two more are sure to sprout. And then there’s Anjelica Huston. Oh Anjelica, why? She delivers a performance that’s pitched somewhere between Star Trek’s Scottie and The Simpsons’s Groundskeeper Willie. But not in any kind of funny way.
Horrid Henry 3D fails in almost every way possible. It’s not funny, the performances are terrible, the script patronises its young audience and insults its adult one. Perhaps it’s greatest crime however is Henry’s just not horrid; he’s boring. Gone is the swaggering borderline sociopath of the books; in his place a well-meaning, if misguided, cookie-cutter rebellious kid with a heart of gold. Disturbingly, Horrid Henry 3D‘s one redeeming feature is TV dickheads Dick & Dom (Richard McCourt & Dominic Wood), essentially playing arch, panto versions of themselves in the film’s, frankly terrifying, German Expressionist/Shockheaded Peter-inspired kids TV talent show Too Cool For School. After an hour of day-glo, hyper-reality their appearance drags the film into darker, more dangerous territory, allowing a brief glimpse of what this film could have been. But it’s only a glimpse; too little, too late.
Remember: “It's only a movie...it’s only a movie…”
Theo Stevenson, Anjelica Huston, Richard E. Grant, Scarlett Stitt, Ross Marron, Parminder Nagra, Mathew Horne, Siobahn Hayes, Tyger Drew-Honey, Kimberly Walsh, Noel Fielding, Rebecca Front, Jo Brand, Richard McCourt & Dominic Wood