I Want Candy Review
Film students Joe (Tom Riley) and Baggy (Tom Burke) dream of getting a film made and breaking into the movie business. Trouble is they're not at UCLA, they're at Leatherhead University, studying under the tragic Professor Dulberg (Mackenzie Crook). Hollywood isn't exactly beckoning. As the course draws to a close, Joe's mum and dad (Philip Jackson and Felicity Montagu) are urging him to put his silly dream behind him and come and work for the family driving school.
In a desperate, last ditch attempt, Joe and Baggy travel into London to pitch their idea for a movie - a tragic, arty romance - to the unsuspecting and unwelcoming British film industry. Taking a wrong turn, they end up in the office of slimy porn producer Doug (Eddie Marsan). He doesn't want to make their film but he does give them an idea. Making a porn flick would be getting a start in movies... sort of... and all they would need to do to get the financing is secure the services of hot American porn star Candy Fiveways (Carmen Electra).
I Want Candy belongs in the upper tier of British sex comedies, which means it's merely bad like School For Seduction and not completely dismal like Fat Slags and Sex Lives Of The Potato Men. God knows it doesn't come close to earning the title of "the British American Pie", which is how it's being advertised. American Pie may be low comedy but it contains memorable characters, funny situations and moments of wit and insight.
You'd have to look hard to find any of those qualities in I Want Candy. As a comedy, it never rises above the level of a raunchy, late night ITV sitcom. The script's lazy, derivative and obvious. Its humour consists of lame double entendres that would barely inspire Finbarr Saunders to muster a "fnarr fnarr", gross-out gags lifted from American Pie and its imitators, sitcom-style one-liners and tired bedroom farce. Typical comic scene: a character hides in his parents' bathroom, where he's forced to listen to them have sex. What, you've seen that in a film?
Even as smut, it doesn't do the job. Despite the subject matter, the only nudity is one shot of a man's bare arse. That's because, like all British sex comedies, I Want Candy is as coy and embarassed about sex as a child who's just learned about the birds and the bees. It's hard to imagine a tamer, more innocuous movie about porn, a subject about which it seems totally ignorant. Do screenwriters Peter Hewitt and Phil Hughes know anything about porn? Have they ever seen a porn movie? You wouldn't know it. There are ancient, clapped out jokes about video titles - "There's Something Up Mary", etc - but nothing that might bring a sly smile to the face of viewers who know who Jenna Jameson is.
You'd think Hewitt and Hughes would at least know something about the British film industry, since they made Thunderpants and Hewitt directed The Borrowers, but the scenes set on Wardour Street show little insider detail. Who in their right mind would try to pitch a tragic, arty romance to Working Title Pictures? Considering they're film students, the heroes' general movie knowledge is quite lacking. When Joe's trying to convince Baggy that porn could be their ticket to Hollywood, why doesn't he mention the fact that Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black) used to shoot hardcore porn or Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) got his start in British sex films?
Why? Because, I'd guess, the dumbed-down script is afraid of quoting names that some members of the audience might not recognise. Instead Joe points out that Martin Scorsese had to edit nude shots into one of his early films, like that bears any relation to making a hardcore porn video! Ah, but people have heard of Scorsese! The script also shows its cynicism with annoying transatlanticisms such as Joe and Baggy talking about going to college, when British university students would have left "college" behind years ago.
A pair of appealing leads might have helped but newcomers Tom Riley and Tom Burke are not very likeable. Burke, playing a film geek, is sullen and boring while Riley, as his schmoozing partner is thoroughly annoying. I think he's supposed to be an amoral but charming hustler, the kind of character Steve Martin played in the similar (if infinitely better) Bowfinger, but that's not how he comes across. He reminded me of a pushy mobile phone salesman. It was only when a pretty receptionist was swooning over Joe half an hour into the film that it occurred to me I was supposed to like him.
Some of the supporting cast aren't bad. The film's nominal star, Carmen Electra isn't on screen very much but she does have a nice, warm presence. Like Jessica Simpson, who brightened up the mediocre Employee Of The Month, Electra suggests she could make it as a movie star if she was given a chance to be anything other than T&A. Little chance of that here.
I also liked Mackenzie Crook, who gets most of the movie's scattered laughs doing a nice piss-take of a pretentious film professor. Philip Jackson and Felicity Montagu do the best they can with their suburban parent roles, which seem to have been resurrected from a seventies sitcom, while EastEnders star Michelle Ryan is agreeable enough but struggles with a character that begins and ends with the word "spunky".
The biggest surprise I Want Candy held for me was the identity of its director. I was expecting to see a first-timer's name but no, it was made by Stephen Surjik for heaven's sake! The man once directed Wayne's World 2, with its classic scene in which Kim Basinger tries to seduce Garth ("Take me Garth!" "Where?"). What the hell possessed him to want to make this? Couldn't he have done anything more with it?
Note: Last year's independent American comedy, The Moguls has a near-identical plot to I Want Candy. It stars Jeff Bridges and Ted Danson in the tale of some small town losers who try to make their fortune by producing a porn film. It's not much more than an amusing diversion but it does have its moments, it knows a bit about porn, it has a good cast and it's head and shoulders above this. Rent that instead and steer well clear of I Want Candy.