Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break
Tom Meeten, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Alice Lowe, Johnny Vegas
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Meeten’s performance, the fine soundtrack and the mundanely incongruous locations take the spoils here…
There’s always a sense of trepidation when a film like Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break pops onto the radar. At first glance, it seems to offer so much – a blackly comic premise, a pedigree British comedy cast, some catchy, yet slightly corny ‘80s tunes – but it also screams a warning of ‘Beware, you’ve been here before, and you’ve been let down before’.
Paul Dood is played by Tom Meeten, who looks like a Robert Downey Jr. impersonator in desperate need of sleep. Paul is preparing for an upcoming talent show audition, his elderly mum acting as cheerleader and assistant. When it becomes clear that Paul has got the day wrong, panic ensues and his attempts to get to the audition while looking after his frail mother fill the first act.
Here is where the film takes a tonal shift, from a kind of sweet-natured oddball story to something more doleful, and sinister. Paul’s path to potential stardom is blocked at every turn by other agents displaying, in turns, officiousness, despair, entitlement and arrogance. This elevation of stress results in a pivotal moment for Paul Dood and his even temperament begins to crack. From here on in, he becomes a vengeance-driven, live streaming psychopath, looking to right the wrongs acted on his person. Or so it would play out in a more formulaic film.
There is a smattering of gore but the style and method of these ‘confrontations’ is neatly subverted.
The director, Nick Gillespie, had only made one feature prior to this but he has bags of experience on sets with Ben Wheatley, and that director’s macabre influence is on show here.
Gillespie has a decidedly esoteric cast at his disposal. Meeten is given every opportunity to go wildly over the top but his performance as the pitiable lap-dog turned flaky nemesis is melancholic and restrained. Katherine Parkinson (Jen from The IT Crowd), Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (both Wheatley alumni), Pippa Hayward, Kris Marshall and even Johnny Vegas have small but important roles, gravitating around Paul’s central force.
The overall tone of the film is curious. Thematically, it’s a modern re-working of Kind Hearts and Coronets, but it doesn’t quite nail its colours to the mast. When it seems like it might be heading towards farce, it holds back. When it threatens to go all early Peter Jackson, again it resists. And at the climax, when it appears to be setting up for a bleak bloodbath, it switches to crowd-pleasing mode, to the detriment of the final product.
Meeten’s performance, the fine soundtrack and the mundanely incongruous locations take the spoils here, and as a low-key satire on the perils of instant celebrity and the dangerous voyeurism of social media, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break almost makes a mockery of any pre-emptive uneasiness. Almost.