THE STAG (15, 94 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson, Andrew Bennett, Michael Legge, Amy Huberman. Director: John Butler.
Released: March 7 (Ireland, selected cinemas); March 14 (UK, selected cinemas)
Boys will be buffoons in John Butler’s raucous comedy about male friends who gets into scrapes during a stag weekend in rural Ireland.
Far gentler than The Hangover but peppered with similar moments of outrageous misfortune, The Stag chugs along pleasantly and elicits wry smiles as the characters find themselves stark naked in a wood with only makeshift squirrel skin thongs to spare their blushes.
Butler’s script, co-written by actor Peter McDonald, trades in broad stereotypes and never threatens to shatter our preconceptions.
Thus the wimp who claims “I can’t abide U2” at the beginning of the film weeps openly to a ballad by Bono and co in the closing frames, and a domineering brother-in-law reveals chinks in his armour to remind us that bullies have hearts too.
It’s a blessing that the script dodges the outlandish, gross-out humour that seems to be the stock-in-trade of American comedies about friendship and male bonding.
So while there are some bodily fluids, they remain safely off camera, and the two gay characters aren’t simply targets for a barrage of homophobia.
Groom-to-be Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) is a self-confessed metrosexual, who would rather attend a hen party with his beautiful fiancee Ruth (Amy Huberman) than suffer the horrors of a stag do.
He is heavily involved in preparations for the big day and lovingly constructs a miniature representation of his dream reception room.
“Very few [grooms] make doll’s houses,” observes the wedding planner tartly.
“It’s a diorama,” he protests.
At the behest of his bride-to-be, Fionnan allows best man Davin (Andrew Scott) to organise a lads-only weekend.
They settle on a rugged camping expedition with good mate Simon (Brian Gleeson) and long-term couple Big Kevin (Andrew Bennett) and Little Kevin (Michael Legge).
Ruth is keen for Fionnan to bond with her fearsome older brother, nicknamed The Machine (Peter McDonald), and assumes her sibling will be invited on this outdoors retreat.
Davin conveniently forgets to tell The Machine, but the bullish brother-in-law is tipped off and he gatecrashes the stag party.
Fragile bonds of friendship are tested to the limit as Fionnan and co withstand a barrage of insults from The Machine, trekking from disaster to despair via a near-death experience with a gun-toting farmer.
At 94-minutes, The Stag doesn’t outstay its welcome but saying a resounding “I do” to Butler’s uneven film is tricky.
The cast inhabit roles with warmth and gusto and the rapport between Scott and O’Conor papers over some of the cracks.
McDonald’s altercation with an electric fence provides a comic highpoint but his character’s persistent nagging wears thin.
A cosy coda tries unsuccessfully to convince us that The Machine’s heavy-handed tactics were all designed to make Fionnan and co better men.