Freed from the millstone of delivering a hard-hitting message, Shooting Fish offers 100 minutes of light-hearted humour that breathes fresh life into British cinema. After all, it's about bloody time we had a side-splitting Brit flick that isn't about corseted gentlewomen, angst-ridden drug addicts or depressed Northern labourers.
It very nearly didn't make it to the big screen, though, with distributors hesitant about backing a film centred on two unemployed, orphaned conmen who don't want to whinge about their lives. But the very fact that Dylan and Jez fail to blame society is what makes the film so enjoyable. Producer Richard Holmes and Soft Top, Hard Shoulder director Stefan Schwartz make every effort to ensure that this piece is totally removed from Albion's usual grey, drizzly, social misery. Dylan and Jez live in a trendy squat-cum-converted gas power station rather than a mouldy council house; outdoor scenes are shot in daylight to give the whole film a vibrant, optimistic vibe, and the cleverly-crafted, witty script makes it obvious that this is a film with only one thing on its agenda: to make you laugh. Which it does.
With a script that allows the characters space to grow and develop, Futterman (Robin Williams' son in The Birdcage) and Townsend (Trojan Eddie) are free to turn in a pair of brilliant performances. The former actor, as the loud-talking Yank, delivers his lines with impeccable comic timing, while the latter is equally endearing as the tongue-tied technical genius with the bad haircut who, much to his friend's dismay, also manages to pull the girl. Kate Beckinsale (Emma, Much Ado About Nothing), is plummy as ever as Georgie, medical student and aristocrat. The queen of corsets 'n' cads laps up a role peppered with neat quips and acerbic wit (lines the actress herself added), proving that despite her historical immersion, she's more than comfortable playing a '90s woman.
Some have hailed Shooting Fish as Four Weddings And A Funeral for '97, but its sweet fairy-tale ending and dawdling middle section prevent it from being a truly great picture. These are minor grumbles, though, for this film is quirky, spirited, carefree and hugely entertaining; something which will linger in your movie memory for a long time.
A unique and well-scripted film that's guaranteed to deliver the laughs. Is this a sign that the British film industry is capable of making more than one historically-correct costume drama after another? Or are we just good at making films with fish in the title?