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.
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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.