Review: ‘Bunny & the Bull’

An agoraphobe remembers the trip around Europe with his friend that sent him over the edge.

Afraid to leave his apartment, a young agoraphobe remembers the trip around Europe with his wayward friend Bunny that sent him over the edge, in the very flawed but visually striking Brit pic “Bunny & the Bull.” Deploying animation and a host of retro in-camera effects, the pic has a charming, intricately textured look, but its undercooked script falls flat. Moreover, although TV-trained writer-helmer Paul King apparently thinks he’s made a dark-edged comedy, laughs are only intermittent. “Bunny” ought to hop around a few fests, but B.O. returns will be far from bullish.

When vermin devour the food supply of neurotic shut-in Stephen (Edward Hogg), he faces the terrifying prospect of leaving his flat. The delivery of an inedible-looking meal from (fictional) fast-food franchise Captain Crab sets Stephen thinking back to the time he went around the continent with his friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby) a year ago, before he became a recluse.

Flashbacks duly fill in what happened on the trip. Back then, gambling-addicted, skirt-chasing boor Bunny was the meek and introverted Stephen’s unlikely best friend. (Indeed, given the lack of explanation, the duo’s implausible friendship reps just one of the script’s many problems.) To help Stephen get over a broken heart, Bunny persuaded him to go traveling in Europe using money they’d won on a horse race.

Eventually, the two hooked up with quirky Spanish cutie Eloisa (Veronica Echegui). Stephen fancied her, but Bunny got her into bed first, showing a typical disregard for his buddy’s feelings. The threesome headed off to Eloisa’s Andalusian hometown, encountering various goofballs along the way. But tragedy awaited them there, a fact Stephen must come to terms with in the present to move on with his life.

Entirely studio-shot, the pic utilizes a deft combination of rear projection, stylized sets, and simple effects to reinforce the impression that everything is unfolding in Stephen’s head. At times, the characters seem to inhabit a nearly 2-D world where everything looks sketched. In other scenes, the surroundings seem to be made from objects in Stephen’s flat — for instance when animated versions of the three characters move through a giant snow globe.

However, the relentlessly inventive visuals aren’t sufficient to distract from the increasingly apparent fact that the story is pretty banal. Meanwhile, all three central characters are unlikable to varying degrees, even the spineless Stephen (it doesn’t help that Hogg is too good-looking for the part as written) and Eloise, with her poor taste in men.

Still, “Bunny & the Bull” might just be compelling enough in the looks department to develop an eventual cult following on ancillary, especially offshore.

Bunny & the Bull

U.K.

Production

An Optimum Releasing presentation of a Warp X production, in association with the U.K. Film Council New Cinema Fund, Film4, Screen Yorkshire, EM Media, Optimum Releasing. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Mary Burke, Robin Gutch, Mark Herbert. Executive producers, Will Clarke, Vincent Maraval, Hugo Heppell, Peter Carlton, Suzanne Alizart. Directed, written by Paul King.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), John Sorapure; editor, Mark Everson; music, Oliver Ralfe; music supervisor, Phil Canning; production designer, Gary Williamson; supervising art director, Richard Bullock; art director/set decorator, Janey Levick; costume designer, Sam Perry; sound (Dolby Digital), Tim Barker; animation, Nigel Coan, Ivana Zorn. Reviewed at Odeon Covent Garden, London, Aug. 5, 2009. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Vanguard.) Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Veronica Echegui, Richard Ayoade, Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Sylvia Syms, James Fox. (English, Spanish dialogue)

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