×

Killing Bono

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

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

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.

Popular on Variety

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

More Film

  • Sex

    Berlinale Series Head Julia Fidel on Reflecting Diversity in Serialized Storytelling

    Sexual exploration, indigenous perspectives and refugees of all stripes characterize much of this year’s selections at the Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Series showcase. It’s the first edition under Julia Fidel, who took over as the section’s head from Solmaz Azizi last year, and while she’s not shaking things up, she’s is looking to put her [...]

  • Ethiopia Africa Hub

    Berlin: Government Support Has Ethiopian Biz Ready to Boom

    For the past decade, Ethiopia has boasted the world’s fastest-growing economy, and its new reform-minded government seems determined to harness that growth to transform an already vibrant creative sector. That was the takeaway from a presentation Sunday morning at the Berlinale Africa Hub, led by producer Mehret Mandefro (“Difret”) and director Abraham Gezahagne, who outlined [...]

  • No Hard Feelings

    'No Hard Feelings': Film Review

    At dawn in an orderly, middle-class suburb in regional Germany, three young people — a girl and two guys — stagger home from a night out. Two of them are siblings, two of them friends and two of them are falling in love. One of them is very drunk and tripping over the long blond [...]

  • All the Dead Ones

    'All the Dead Ones': Film Review

    There are a host of important, even vital ideas behind “All the Dead Ones,” a hybrid period piece addressing Brazil’s unresolved legacy of slavery and the imprint it’s had on an all-too-often downplayed contemporary racism of malignant toxicity. Set largely in 1899, 11 years after the abolition of slavery but designed so modern São Paulo [...]

  • Olivia Wilde

    Searchlight Aggressively Pursuing World Rights to Olivia Wilde's 'Perfect' at EFM

    Searchlight Pictures has emerged as the frontrunner for the Olivia Wilde-directed gymnastics movie “Perfect,” amid a days-long bidding war out of Berlin’s EFM. Variety understands that the studio is ‘heavily pursuing’ world rights to the hot title — one of a crop of female-led projects at the market — with A24, Warner Bros. and Neon [...]

  • 'High Ground' Review: Ugly Conflict and

    'High Ground': Film Review

    There’s a hint of John Ford to “High Ground,” a sinewy, sun-baked faceoff between indigenous and invading armies in the Arnhem Land wilderness of Australia, though by now we probably need a better word than “western” for films that situate the tensions and tropes of Hollywood operas in their own distinct geographical context. Handsomely mounted [...]

  • Undine

    'Undine': Film Review

    Christian Petzold’s “Undine” begins with a breakup. Framed tightly on the face of lead actor Paula Beer, we absorb the news as she does. But this is no ordinary separation, and as jilted lovers go, Undine’s far from typical. Her name betrays what sets her apart, although in the vast realm of mythological entities, undines [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content