Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Nuns on the Run (UK, 1990)

Now this is a blast from the past, a real shoulder-mounted retro cannon slug to the crotch. Back in 1990 Coltrane and Idle were probably two of the funniest and most popular guys in the UK alongside other greats of the BBC. One was an ex-Python, say no more, the other a British TV favourite and with some small notable movie roles under his belt. I don't really recall how well it did at the box office but I remember watching it often as a kid, and enjoying the heck out of it. It was one of those movies that was shown on TV pretty often, usually cut but a regular early evening flick none the less.

The story centres on two petty crooks who work for this London gangster, the duo are fed up with robbing banks and basically being bad guys so they decide to leave their criminal employer. Unfortunately the mobster boss doesn't allow his employees to leave so he arranges to have them whacked after a heist for some cash (pinching it from Triads). The duo realise what will probably happen so they come up with a plan to double cross their employer and run off with the money to Brazil. The plan goes well getting the money but the pair end up hiding out in a nunnery whilst the heat dies down, biding their time for the perfect chance to make a dash for it. During all this, Eric Idle's character Brian (must be his favourite comedy name) becomes infatuated with a blonde which complicates matters (of course).

Now maybe its me but I do think this British romp inspired the American hit 'Sister Act'. The entire rolling gag for this movie is basically seeing Idle and Coltrane in drag as nuns, a Laurel & Hardy pairing, one fat and one thin. Of course that is not the route the Whoopi Goldberg comedy went, but the premise of a person involved with criminals having to hide out with nuns and pretty much become one, is the same. The difference being this movie followed two blokes and its not as religious, if I can say that.

Now I will say that both Idle and Coltrane do work well together in this movie. They both fit their roles of seedy London gangsters perfectly, they are both quite amusing and they both look good as nuns too. Idle of course has much experience of dressing in ladies attire and acting silly with a silly effeminate high pitched voice. Indeed he does this very well even though it does feel like we've seen this whole act by him before. Coltrane has that great bold, loud, cutting edge to his humour that comes across brilliantly with his Scottish accent, he always sounds like he's taking the piss which is funny. Here he is better than Idle in my view, he is funnier, sharper with dialog, he naturally looks more amusing in certain situations because of his size and he actually looks like a real woman dressed as a nun.

The problem is the movie has highs and lows, but more boring lows. Much of the time we are watching people have conversations about the situation they are in, in between that we get some reasonably fast paced action but not a lot. What action we do see is, by today's standards, incredibly dated and cheesy looking, it doesn't help that the UK looked so damn quaint and charming back then too (look at the cars!!). The movie obviously didn't have a mega budget (it is an early Brit flick after all) and its pretty clear to see generally. That's not a bad thing, the low-key visuals do help the film feel more gritty and genuine but at the same time very cheap and tacky. Acting from the various other gangsters, Triads (merely filler in the story to be honest) and support cast are also somewhat primitive, at times at does feel like a homemade B-movie. The two cockney villains are definitely Richie/Vaughn type characters, again you can see influences there. Whilst the main boss is a real wet squib, God knows where they dug this guy up from with that horrific 90's hairdo, he looks like an annoying, pompous uni student you just wanna slap.

The highlights come within the nunnery which isn't surprising really. The cast for the nuns are really very good and dish out some solid laughs. When watching these old dears its very clear to see how this movie influenced the Whoopi Goldberg flick, the characters are very similar. The sister Superior (Janet Suzman) is a typically calm, kind talking, no-nonsense leader, but with a delicious dry wit about her. Then you have the old warhorse of a nun that can't hear too well, is kinda grumpy and forgets things, the fat nun that likes a drink, and the priest that likes the ladies a bit too much. The main difference here is this movie is for adults only, yes you do see lots of young female nuns nude, perky breasts, tight buttocks, skimpy lingerie and some naughty swearing I believe. It is highly amusing when we see Idle and Coltrane conversing with the nuns about various things, in various situations, as they try to avoid duties, keep hold of their loot and generally live like women, with lots of a nunnery. Yes it is all cliched and predictable these days but it still raises a smile.

One other notable thing about this movie was the soundtrack that was provided by Swiss musicians Yello. The track was created years earlier but was prominently used in this movie throughout. It is a catchy oddball tune that does admittedly blend well with the madcap chase sequences.

The film is a good laugh but it doesn't really deliver on all fronts. Considering the title suggests its all about nuns on the run, there actually isn't a whole lot of that. Plenty of running, slapstick, pratfalls and all-round tomfoolery sure, but not too much of that involves the nun side of it. You could of called it 'On the Run' and it still would have worked, although obviously not as catchy. Its more of a crime heist comedy which is fine but its a shame they didn't nail in more religious jabs, it really yearned for it. Maybe they were just playing it safe, I just feel this could of been much more riskier and funnier, especially with Idle and Coltrane on board. It is typically British with typically British gags, a (now) routinely rascally affair that's infantile and cheeky. Close to being a classic but misses the chance.