John Smith (Danny Dyer) is a London taxi driver who has a secret. One night he is on his way home when he sees a bag lady (Judi Dench) being attacked by two muggers who are after her handbag, so he turns hero and steps in, only to get walloped on the head for his trouble. Suffering from concussion, he is taken to hospital for observation and to be bandaged up, but the next morning he is growing increasingly concerned, as is his wife Michelle (Denise Van Outen) because he didn't return home last night. His other wife Stephanie (Sarah Harding) is worried too, and they both try to contact him – that's right, John is a bigamist, and living two lives each wife knows nothing about.
Ray Cooney was in his eighties when his big screen adaptation of his long-running, much-revived farce was released, making him one of Britain's oldest working film directors ever, and if the general reaction was to be believed, one of the worst. As critics and audiences alike lined up to proclaim this one of the most pitiful comedies ever made, the box office takings were so low that you had to wonder how many of those slagging it off had actually seen it, though if they had most of them were assuredly not recommending it to anyone. Cooney made his movie as star-studded as possible, drafting in a selection of his showbiz buddies to fill out cameo roles, though this was about as far from The Player as it was possible to get.
This turned out to be the final acting roles for many of the now-very elderly stars, though many were wishing that had also been the case for leading man Danny Dyer; this was before a part in popular television soap Eastenders happened along to save his bacon. What was more unfortunate was that one of the cameos was from Rolf Harris, playing a busker right under the opening credits (alongside Cliff Richard), which guaranteed this would never be shown on television ever since his very public disgrace and subsequent jail term, but if you thought that wasn't funny, nothing could prepare you for what passed for Cooney's idea of humour as he had updated his original script to reflect changing attitudes.
The attitudes of the nineteen-seventies, or so it seemed, as much of this wouldn't pass muster in a town hall amdram effort. For instance, there was a chocolate cake one character carries around purely so that John’s neighbour Gary (Neil Morrissey) managed to sit on it, making it look as if he'd shat himself, though not before he had tested the substance to make sure it really wasn’t excrement by tasting it. That was the best they could conjure up to seem cutting edge, you had to assume, yes, it was very silly, but it was played with such exaggerated dimwit demeanour by the blokes and screeching caricature by the ladies that it started tiresome and quickly grew tedious, barely entertaining in a car crash quality.
The plot stuck with Cooney's play more or less faithfully, but there's a difference between playing farce on the stage and in the movies, and this showed that up all too unforgivingly. By the time Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair have appeared to start, well, blaring, as a gay couple who are John's neighbours at his other flat, it’s a stout heart who has made up their mind to stay with this to the bitter end, not least because it was so cheap-looking it less resembled a basic sitcom with its obvious, underdressed sets and suburban locations, and more barely one step up from an instructional video. When the police grow suspicious and get involved with John's dilemma, you are tempted to ask them to arrest the directors as well, just to stop everyone embarrassing themselves any further. It's difficult to know who to recommend this to, as any fans of the material would much prefer to see it in the theatre, and even bad film buffs have their limits. Also featuring the most optimistic last line in the credits ever. Music by Walter Mair.