'Killing Bono'

Two brothers are determined to make it in the music biz in this tonally weird, 1980s-set Britcom.

Two brothers are determined to prove they can make it in the music biz, too, when their erstwhile schoolmates find worldwide success as pop combo U2 in the tonally weird, 1980s-set Britcom “Killing Bono.” Taking liberties with journalist Neil McCormick’s memoir to create narrative tension, screenwriters Simon Maxwell and prolific scribe team Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“The Commitments”) overstuff the story with subplots and trite character arcs. Nick Hamm’s clumsy helming doesn’t help, but fame by association could drum up support among U2’s fan base, while young leads Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan also rep commercial plusses.

Attention-grabbing 1987-set prologue sees crazed musician Neil McCormick (Barnes, who plays Prince Caspian in the “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise) racing to an appearance by U2 with the intention of shooting lead singer Bono (Martin McCann). Action then rolls back 11 years to a happier, more innocent time when Neil and his brother, Ivan (Sheehan), were just Dublin schoolboys messing around with instruments. Neil’s classmate Paul Hewson, who would later rename himself Bono, is impressed with Ivan’s guitar playing and extends an offer, through Neil, to let Ivan join his band, the Hype.

Neil, however, doesn’t relay the invitation so he can keep Ivan in his own band, in which Neil sings lead vocals. But as the years pass, the name of their band changes (from the awful Yeah! Yeah! to the equally bad and exclamatory Shook Up!) and their lineup evolves, the McCormick brothers fail to take off and keep playing in bars and small venues. Meanwhile, the Hype becomes U2 and achieves superstardom. Bono (in an embarrassingly written bit of hagiography) tries to help out his old friends, offering them a recording contract with his label and even a supporting spot when U2 plays in Dublin, but Neil continually rebuffs these acts of generosity, preferring to make it on own.

What a schmuck, most auds are likely to think, if they don’t already think worse of him for ruining his brother’s chance of being part of the biggest thing to come out of Ireland since the potato blight. Although Barnes reps an engaging presence, it’s all too easy not to root for his self-centered, clearly deluded Neil. Auds’ sympathies ought to fall easily at the feet of Sheehan’s Ivan, except that the climactic revelation is overmilked for pathos, and Sheehan, so good in the British TV series “Misfits,” ought to have been directed to dial it down a bit more. Sadly, that’s true of most of the perfs here, even from the late Pete Postlethwaite, camping it up as a gay landlord in what proved to be his last screen appearance.

Dialogue is occasionally sharp, even genuinely funny at times, but not often enough to support the farcical antics of the last act, which bring in gangsters, guns and slutty older women. Hamm, whose resume includes “The Very Thought of You” (aka “Martha — Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence”) and “The Hole,” seems undecided as to whether he’s making a comedy about betrayal and envy or a straight drama with the odd funny line.

Tech credits reflect tonal confusion, with bizarrely cantered angles jutting in for no clear reason via Kieran McGuigan’s lensing, and draggy editing by Bill Sneddon. A bolder prune in the editing suite, snipping out at least half an hour if possible, might have improved the whole thing.

Killing Bono

U.K.

Production

A Paramount U.K. release of a Greenroom Entertainment, Wasted Talent, the Salt Co., Generator Entertainment presentation, in association with Isotope Films, Matador Pictures, Cinema Three, Regent Capital, Molinare, Silver Reel, Sony Music Entertainment U.K., Northern Ireland Screen. (International sales: the Salt Co., London.) Produced by Ian Flooks, Nick Hamm, Mark Huffam, Piers Tempest. Executive producers, Nigel Thomas, Charlotte Walls, Russell Allen, Simon Bosanquet, Mark Foligno, Jon Hamm, Tommy Moran, Samantha Horley, Cyril Megret, Robert Bevan, Deepak Sikka, Ian Hutchinson, Nicholas Myers, Simon Maxwell, Jacqui Kerr-Dineen, Paul Curran. Co-producer, Isibeal Ballance. Co-executive producers, Andrew Barratt, Oliver Edwards, Michael Kerr-Dineen, Pia Le Gallais, Aidan Elliott. Directed by Nick Hamm. Screenplay, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Simon Maxwell, based on the book "I Was Bono's Doppelganger" by Neil McCormick.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Kieran McGuigan; editor, Bill Sneddon; music, Joe Echo, Stephen Warbeck; music supervisor, Tarquin Gotch; production designer, Tom McCullagh; art director, Mark Lowry; set decorator, Shane Bunting; costume designer, Lorna Marie Mugan; sound (Dolby Digital), Ronan Hill; supervising sound editor, Ian Wilson; re-recording mixer, Scott Jones; visual effects supervisor, Simon Carr; stunt coordinator, Robert Inch; associate producers, Cornelia Durrant, James Higginson; assistant director, Raymond Kirk; casting, Lucy Bevan, Kelly Valentine Hendry. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 10, 2011. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Ben Barnes, Robert Sheehan, Krysten Ritter, Peter Serafinowicz, Stanley Townsend, Martin McCann, Pete Postlethwaite.

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