Of all the self-inflicted indignities Scottish comic, actor and TV host Craig Ferguson has subjected himself to through his decades in the public eye, none can compare to co-writing, directing and starring in a movie where supporting player Joss Ackland, in a tiny role, utterly upstages him.
This is worse than trying to cobble together a rom-com with pal Kathie Lee Gifford, worse than surrendering his very-funny chat show to a witty robot, worse than taking sixth banana status behind Drew Carrey on a sitcom.
Because “I’ll Be There,” meant to make a screen star out of cherubic English songbird Charlotte Church, hasn’t a bloody laugh in it.
Veteran screen heavy Ackland (“Lethal Weapon II,” etc.) letting his hair grow long to play a geezer named “Evil Edmonds” fronting a has-been band, the Boolzebops, is almost funny in a head-snapping casting sort of way. But he doesn’t do his own singing, so that’s as far as that goes.
Ferguson plays a late New Wave/early hair-metal rocker named Paul Kerr who, back in the day fathered a child with future single-mom Rebecca (Gemma Redgrave). That baby has grown up to be always-smiling, always Vespaing 16-year-old Olivia (Church), who finally learns who her dad is when the dissolute, reclusive Kerr (Curr?) makes the news.
Perhaps if he’d known, Paul’s latest bender wouldn’t have happened and he’d have never driven that motorcycle off the balcony of his Welsh manor house, put himself in hospital and been “sectioned” by helpful shrink Imelda Stanton.
Just as Olivia is introduced into his life, an old bandmate (Ralph Brown) shows up to sober him up and get a reluctant Paul into AA.
Can he get clean, get into fatherhood and set this world to right, keeping the worried villagers where he lives (Ian McNeice among them) gainfully employed, even if he isn’t there to run a big tab down’t’pub?
If you didn’t notice his “directed by” in the credits, you still could figure that out by the way the star of this tale — named for the soul hit that Church ruins without even trying — slow-walks through every scene.
Pace problems in a comedy can be fixed in post-production, provided there are gags, one-liners and cute close-ups enough in the can to speed things up. Apparently not, in this case.
Long-sober alcoholic Ferguson is almost cute as a drunk, but barely, and merely thinly-charming sober in this case. And he’s nothing funny to say or play — just nothing.
The retro rock thing — he wrote and sang his CBS chat show’s theme — was promising in concept, but delivers little in the way of lighter moments.
And Church, pasted-on smile in close-up after close-up, has no spark, zero connection with the viewer via the camera. She had Ferguson and Warner Bros. (and shlock merchants Morgan Creek) behind her and she drives this star vehicle right into the ditch.
Or would, if Ferguson hadn’t already steered it in that direction.
All concerned would have been better served building a movie around cast-against-type Ackland and his codger-rockers. Only they’re never given a chance to be funny, either.
Want to see something funny with Our Lad Craig in it? Hit Youtube, look for the “Late Late Show” bits with his assorted sock puppets (not a euphemism) or him laughing at the robot sidekick. That stuff still leaves me in stitches.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug references, some sexual humor/nudity and brief language
Cast: Craig Ferguson, Charlotte Church, Joss Ackland, Jemma Redgrave, Imelda Stanton, Ralph Brown and Ian McNeice
Credits: Directed by Craig Ferguson, script by Craig Ferguson and Philip McGrade. A Warner Bros. release on Tubi, Amazon, etc.
Running time: 1:45