The Shouting Men
Release: March 5, 2010. Cert: 15. Running time: 90 mins. Dir: Steve Kelly. Cast: Matt Daniel Baker, Warren Llambias, Dudley Sutton, Craig Fairbrass, John Barnes.
The prevailing trend for films about football fans in recent times has been to focus on the world of hooliganism but, as a comedy about a group of Gillingham supporters who head north for an FA Cup quarter-final tie against Newcastle, The Shouting Men for a long time reaps the rewards of a more light-hearted approach.
It sees a ten-strong group of Gills fans - or 'Shouting Men', as derived from the club's Latin motto - agree to drive wheelchair-bound Terry 300 miles from Kent to St James' Park in exchange for a free minibus and free fuel. They soon learn that Terry is not just football crazy but genuinely psychopathic.
For the first hour, it works surprisingly well, particularly where the writers steer clear of cliche. Most of the laughs come as Terry, played by co-writer Matt Daniel-Baker, repeatedly sparks fights with opposing fans. It's hooliganism again, of course, but with a very different slant, and it's testament to the performance as much as anything that he can generate regular amusement.
The film has the making of an unlikely triumph for a while - an enjoyable low-budget British film about football - but, when it substitutes comedy for drama in the final half-hour, it suddenly feels very flimsy. Having a patriotic Scot, a closet homosexual hairdresser and a fat man who's constantly eating may not amount to comedy gold, but those stereotypes are fine for knockabout jokes; when they try to tackle issues of fatherhood, divorce, homosexuality and terminal illness, it appears you're expected to have developed a genuine interest in all of their private lives over the course of an hour.
What's worse is the manner of the revelations: the hairdresser, for example, is outed when he performs a sex act on a stranger in a public toilet during a brief stop at a service station. It's an earnest scene, followed by a speech about how hard it is for him to admit he's gay.
That the funniest moment - a John Barnes cameo - comes as the film is becoming mired in overly sentimental drama serves as a reminder that it was its irreverence that made the first hour. As a presenter on Five, Barnes made the channel's football coverage sound like a remedial English lesson, but he genuinely steals the show during his brief appearance here. Peter Beardsley, Andy Hessenthaler and Mark Pougatch feature, too.
Like the Gillingham team gearing up for what is apparently "the biggest game in the club's history", this 90-minute, low-budget film offers a bold attempt at success against the odds. Unfortunately, though, it's not unlike watching that Gillingham side comfortably holding a 1-0 lead after an hour at St James' Park before deciding to repeatedly kick the ball into their own net and going on to lose the match 5-1.
It's a shame, really, because The Shouting Men looked for the most part to have done enough to have won a strong following of its own.
View the trailer: