This biopic of sleazy UK entrepreneur Paul Raymond (the Poms’ answer to Larry Flynt) tracks his rise from nightclub owner to magazine publisher and property tycoon.
All the ingredients are there for a cracking good yarn. The pairing of UK director Michael Winterbottom and comic Steve Coogan is usually a sure bet. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story was a triumph of high farce and impeccable performances as Coogan and Welsh comic Rob Brydon played a pair of self-obsessed actors. The Trip saw Coogan and Brydon reunite in a droll but incredibly funny car trip through the north of England. And Winterbottom’s tackling of more serious matters in Welcome to Sarajevo (war), or 9 Songs (sex) are the work of a true auteur.
Unfortunately, this film is Winterbottom off his game as he fails to bring out the best of Coogan. The actor’s usually brilliant comic timing is sluggish, and he struggles to work with a less-than-snappy script penned by Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote the great, tragic biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
The ill-fitting Austin Powers wigs and hastily grown (and pasted on) facial hair is a major distraction from what could be a much more serious, poignant tale. Along with the tired lines, and Coogan repeating his Sean Connery impression, it seems he’s not sure whether to reprise his TV alter-ego Alan Partridge, or to play with a straight bat. The interestingly named Imogen Poots (as Raymond’s increasingly damaged daughter) is one shining light, and would have carried the film beautifully as a drama.
There’s plenty of titillation throughout The Look of Love as Raymond’s nightclub acts and magazine move from bawdy to pornographic, but don’t expect any eroticism. As the supposedly stud-like Raymond, Coogan looks positively wooden in any scenes that involve intimacy.
Ultimately, this is an entertaining enough film that clips along at a fair pace for its one and three-quarter hours. But even Little Britain’s David Walliams and Matt Lucas fail to spark things with their stereotyped cameos. Normally a filmmaker of the highest grade, Winterbottom’s inability to deliver either a parodic comedy or a more dour dramatic biography results in a film that fails to live up to its potential.
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