It's a chilly winter's morning in London where five stuntmen, led by Steve (Dave Clark), are rudely awoken by the sound of the pipe organ doubling as an alarm clock in their converted church apartment. It's so cold the milk has frozen in the milk bottles, sabotaging their breakfast, and soon they are off in a grumbling mood to their latest job. They are playing in a new advertisement for meat, a campaign that is supposed to make the product appear hip and happening, and Steve is driving the car that model Dinah (Barbara Ferris) is acting in, but they drive off the set and seriously consider zooming off for good. But will they ever escape?
There are two reasons Catch Us If You Can, or Having a Wild Weekend as it was also known, are remembered today. One is that it was the debut feature of cult director John Boorman, who went on to his own ups and downs in the industry, and the other is that it was also the debut film of pop group The Dave Clark Five, who never made a follow-up, despite briefly enjoying Beatles-style success at the time. If you're expecting another Hard Day's Night, a day in the life of a band or whatever, then you'll be surprised to see the Five not even perfom: this is something different.
The group's songs may be heard on the soundtrack, but it's clear that Boorman and writer Peter Nichols have other things on their minds than a quickie to part the kids from their pocket money. In fact, Clark and his cohorts do absolutely nothing musical throughout the story, and to top it all they're not much in the acting stakes either. The rest of the band make do with quick quips that won't tax their abilities, but Clark is the star of the show, and as such makes for a particularly sullen hero, looking thoroughly pissed off for most of the action.
If this was a frothy confection such glowering looks would hamper the light hearted mood, yet there's a strain of melancholy running through the film in spite of the wacky setpieces. Dinah does indeed go off with Steve, and the suspiciously Machiavellian advertising svengali behind the campaign, who believes marketing is "total war", puts out a statement that she has been kidnapped to drum up more publicity, and, the ending implies, remind Dinah that she can't get away from the trials of her glitzy life for long.
That ending is quite out of place in the typical pop movie of the time, but here it suits the moody, in-two-minds tone. Steve and Dinah have a variety of adventures with and without the other band members, ending up with beatniks on an army testing range and nearly getting blown up for their trouble at one point. They also hitchhike with a middle aged couple (Robin Bailey and Yootha Joyce - spot all the British sitcom talent in this, incidentally) and go to a fancy dress party in movie star costumes that is raided by the agency looking for the runaway model. There is plenty of running around, but that bleak feeling never leaves: perhaps it's the season, more likely it's the cynicism about the media that informs the writing. That, and the "saturnine" Clark.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.