From the production company that brought you Billy Elliot (and, less illustriously, Kevin&Perry Go Large), The Martins is an extended sitcom pilot with too much sit and not enough com. Despite the impossible-to-dislike coupling of Lee Evans and Kathy Burke, it's far too happy to trundle along on the strength of its cheap-and-cheerfulness alone.
Still, Evans is a splendid rarity: a British stand-up comic who has managed to refine his outrageous talent for physical comedy into a jittery, oddly compulsive screen presence. Here, he transcends the Sky Premier-bound feel and turns in a bravura performance - finely-tuned comic timing, unhinged despair, pathos, one or two flashes of Carrey-flooring slapstick. It's a shame, then, that the material doesn't reward his enthusiasm. Director Tony Grounds is a little too fascinated with the gory details of working-class language and lifestyle to worry about developing his characters. An early, promising scene featuring a grimly improvised back-garden barbecue is quickly flattened by a slanging match with the sniffy guy next door. The class confrontation is too jarring; a better director would have left it to simmer in the background.
Despite her abilities, Burke is veering dangerously close to salt-of-the-earth typecast territory, but she does a decent job as the emotional prop, and even manages to squeeze out a hideously American-sounding line ("You were great in there tonight") with admirable dignity. There's also a maddeningly brief cameo from Ray Winstone as a foul-mouthed children's entertainer.
The ill-advised original title, Tosspot, was presumably deemed un-American, but we defy any Hollywood studio to come up with a more cloying closing image than the one used here. Where's Mike Leigh when you need him?