In the filmmaking business, hitting a slump is unavoidable and bound to happen sooner or later. That said, talented actors do not tend to plummet as enthusiastically into the abyss as Simon Pegg does in his new film, A Fantastic Fear of Everything. Easily among the year’s worst, one can only hope that it is remembered as a mere smudge on an otherwise mostly distinguished career. Fortunately for Pegg, audiences should have no qualms banishing his latest farce from their consciousness within minutes of leaving the cinema, if they even make it that far.
Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills alongside ironically-surnamed co-director Chris Hopewell helms a film with sure visual promise – elicited by a moody opening animated sketch of London’s night skyline – but the duo quickly appears out of their depth when tackling Mills’ own messy, tone-deaf screenplay. Horridly on-the-nose voiceover narration quickly dominates, even strangulates the story, as protagonist Jack (Pegg) plans to write a novel about serial killers, yet finds himself growing increasingly paranoid of becoming a victim himself. While hardly the worst idea for a film, any sense of functional atmosphere it has is promptly eroded by Jack’s insistent exposition –Torrance his surname certainly ain’t.
It is a quirky oddity yet not at all a funny one; one particularly strange scene has Jack sitting in a diner with his agent, as they both light up a cigarette. A snooty waiter warns Jack that he can’t smoke, yet says nothing to his agent. Why is this? Is it meant to be funny, or ironic? There is no indication or explanation, and it doesn’t even appear to enhance his paranoia.
Unfortunately, that is pretty much the least of it. The majority of act one sees Pegg aimlessly sauntering around in an unfetching pair of stained paints, frittering screen time away with irritating delusions neither funny nor clever. The half-inspired premise is taken exactly nowhere, at least no direction worth following anyway – rather, Jack speaks with a barmy therapist (Paul Freeman) lazily named Dr. Friedkin (they must have felt so clever namedropping a father of modern horror), while hollow armchair psychology is haphazardly doled out.
Act two meanwhile sees Jack finally leave his house and head to the laundrette, kickstarting a horribly unfunny, distended sequence in which Jack, with a butcher’s knife crazy-glued to his hand, is mistaken for a knife-wielding psychopath, rather than the knife-wielding idiot that he is. It frustrates because Jack never explains his predicament, and simply dithers about in an agitated state professing his innocence. The ease with which the situation could be resolved completely undercuts any and all comic intention.
The third act gets slightly – very slightly – more interesting as an absurdly-reasoned slasher narrative rears its head. Still, the hints of a romantic entanglement between Jack and his fellow captor, Sangeet (played by the sole bright spark in the entire film, Amara Karan) feels cynically shoehorned in, all the more so given the inherent unlikability of Pegg’s character. A short animated sequence about a beleaguered hedgehog course-corrects things briefly, but once it’s over, it is back to soul-destroyingly mundane business as usual.
The genuine surprise of Mills and Hopewell’s film is that it suggests Pegg is unable to singularly carry a film. Despite having carved out a solid niche as the likable, chubby schlub, here he proves irksome and misguided in intention even if we concede that the script does him virtually no favours. Down to brass tacks, it is an embarrassing vehicle for its lead and the worst ad for Y-fronts in years.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is in cinemas now.