From the production company that brought you Billy Elliot (and, less illustriously, Kevin&Perry Go Large), The Martins is an extended sitcom pilot with too much sit and not enough com. Despite the impossible-to-dislike coupling of Lee Evans and Kathy Burke, it's far too happy to trundle along on the strength of its cheap-and-cheerfulness alone.
Still, Evans is a splendid rarity: a British stand-up comic who has managed to refine his outrageous talent for physical comedy into a jittery, oddly compulsive screen presence. Here, he transcends the Sky Premier-bound feel and turns in a bravura performance - finely-tuned comic timing, unhinged despair, pathos, one or two flashes of Carrey-flooring slapstick. It's a shame, then, that the material doesn't reward his enthusiasm. Director Tony Grounds is a little too fascinated with the gory details of working-class language and lifestyle to worry about developing his characters. An early, promising scene featuring a grimly improvised back-garden barbecue is quickly flattened by a slanging match with the sniffy guy next door. The class confrontation is too jarring; a better director would have left it to simmer in the background.
Despite her abilities, Burke is veering dangerously close to salt-of-the-earth typecast territory, but she does a decent job as the emotional prop, and even manages to squeeze out a hideously American-sounding line ("You were great in there tonight") with admirable dignity. There's also a maddeningly brief cameo from Ray Winstone as a foul-mouthed children's entertainer.
The ill-advised original title, Tosspot, was presumably deemed un-American, but we defy any Hollywood studio to come up with a more cloying closing image than the one used here. Where's Mike Leigh when you need him?
A very British plot featuring the usual sleazy journos, icy traffic wardens and floppy coppers. An earthy, infrequently amusing vehicle for the continuing revelation of Lee Evans, actor. Someone, please, give this man a high-profile leading role.