Movie Review: Cleese and Kingsley, Reed and Rigg, Hoskins and Lumley in a 1998 debacle starring Chris Rea — “Parting Shots”

What’s this then? An “all-star romp” featuring Sir Ben Kingsley, John Cleese, Joanna Lumley and the late Bob Hoskins, Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed?

Why’d it never earn a US release? And if not, how did Bobcat Goldthwait see it and decide to remake a movie Britain’s Empire Magazine infamously named one of the “50 Worst Movies Ever?”

That Bobcat. Leave it to him to make “God Bless America” out of “Parting Shots,” a movie so bad it was almost Bobcat’s own “parting shot.” He still directs TV, but he only made one more theatrical film.

The British director Michael Winner, of “Death Wish” movies and worse, came up with the idea for “Parting Shots,” a British farce about a dying man who goes on a comical “settling my affairs” settling-scores killing spree. Winner got someone else to take the fall for the screenplay, and landed then-50ish British rocker Chris Rea, whose career only featured “acting” in his own music videos, to play the lead.

Shockingly, it didn’t go well.

Rea plays Harry Sterndale, a 50ish photographer who does weddings — mostly — who gets the bad news in the first scene. Six weeks to live, “get your affairs in order,” all that.

And as he’s doing yet another favor for his faithless, cheating ex-wife (Rigg), he has an epiphany. He’ll visit this notorious pub he’s seen on TV, the sort of place where one can buy an illegal gun (from Lumley), and he’ll carry out a one man “purge.”

No school bully (Patrick Ryecart), thieving financial advisor (Hopkins) or credit-thief colleague (Cleese) and the like is safe.

British TV mainstay Felicity Kendal of the PBS import “The Good Life” plays a sympathetic bystander. Gareth Hunt — who co-starred with Lumley on “The New Avengers”– is the cop on the case, and the dipsomaniacal legend Mr. Reed…well, wait and see who he and Kingsley play.

The Big Names give fair value, wringing what they can out of a bad idea and a worse screenplay. Cleese just sparkles as an ad-man given to shouting “Jolly UP” at an old colleague he’s just learned is dying.

Kingsley gives a discounted version of Ben Does Dazzling Accents.

Lumley is scandalous and louche, Rigg that ever-snobby obscure object of desire, etc.

And in spite of all that, the spark of life is nowhere to be found. Rea, who apparently has never toured America in a career spanning many decades (“Fool If You Think It’s Over” was his biggest US hit), got no encouragement to do so after this.

He also hasn’t acted in a movie since. The character is glumly-drawn and dully-acted, a “nice guy” who is asked “What’s wrong with being nice and keeping your word?”

“You lose.”

Reed ensured that there were better “stories” about his work on the film, and his boozing, than anything that appeared on the screen.

And Winner went out with a loser, a movie with demure murders, inept police chases and not a single surprise in it — not one — a bomb rightly considered one of the worst British films ever made.

Sad story about Bobcat G’s over-the-top violent remake, “God Bless America,” which came out in 2011. My review of the film was pretty mean, and as I was syndicated, the Chicago Tribune ran it. That was star Joel Murray’s hometown newspaper, and he was upset enough to send me an angry note or three. Bill Murray’s bit player brother was sure he’d get better parts after Bobcat gave him his first lead.

Bobcat, who had to know the awful rep of the original film, never let Murray figure out the joke was on him. That’s just cold.

Rating: TV-14, violence, sexual situations

Cast: Chris Rea, Felicity Kendal, Diana Rigg, Joanna Lumley, Gareth Hunt, Oliver Reed, Bob Hoskins, Ben Kingsley and John Cleese.

Credits: Directed by Michael Winner, scripted by Nick Mead. A United International Pictures release on Tubi, Amazon, other streaming platforms.

Running time: 1:38

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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