Seven years in the making for writer/director Terence Ryan, this lowish budget drama marks a return to that well-worn war movie setting, the PoW camp and, with it, themes of love, loss, betrayal and redemption. However, the familiar clichés have been given a twist: the two heroes are incarcerated in a compound where the prisoners are let out on day-release to attend horse races, have a few ales and meet the girls.
But, even though it's based on a true story, The Brylcreem Boys still has a detached, artificial feel about it; in the set designs, the plot and the locations (in the Isle of Man). While the attention to chronological detail is impeccable, it remains a stilted, often unintentionally funny yarn with the odd scrap, lots of uninspiring talk of real escape and negligible emotional depth.
To its credit, The Brylcreem Boys makes the most of sultry Irish newcomer Butler (the leading dancer for the Riverdance stage show). And during a blatant advertising sequence, the script gives the leggy lass five minutes or so to skip through an appropriately high-kicking jig, offering the movie's high point. It's an assured debut, matched only by John Gordon Sinclair, who injects a little light relief with a comedy cameo. A-Lister Gabriel Byrne, however, is shamefully underused as the wry, benign camp commandant; so much so that he barely nabs 10 minutes of screen-time.
In the quasi-heroic lead role, Bill Campbell (The Rocketeer) fails to out-act your average slice of white bread: only Angus MacFadyen (superb as Braveheart's Robert the Bruce) saves the stalling Brylcreem plane from total destruction. Through his German aristocratic ace Von Stegenbeck, he shows moments of virtuoso acting and a beautiful, Brando-inspired, scene-stealing turn from start to finish, singlehandedly improving what is basically a lushly photographed but highly uninvolving drama.
Only Angus MacFadyen excels in a true-story drama that suffers from a meandering episodic storyline and shallow, ineffectual characterisations. The Brylcreem Boys panders to too many war movie clichés, offering little in the way of empathy.