The Parole Officer review

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Forget Lara Croft in her halter tops and those Pearl Harbor boys in their flying jackets. This summer, the nation's favourite hero will be wearing corduroy trousers. Steve Coogan's latest comic creation, probation officer Simon Garden, is nerdishness personified. He's every Guardian-reading, anorak-suited liberal who has invaded your personal space since school careers advisers first tried to get down with the kids.

But in Coogan's hands, Simon isn't condescending, he's just a social klutz who digs himself deeper and deeper into embarrassing situations. Instinctively, we're drawn to Simon's side, walking a delicate line between laughing at him and cheering him on. Coogan's skilful move is to make Simon vulnerable but brave, an underdog with a heart of gold and a strong sense of injustice. We don't want to be him, but we do want him to bring down the bad guys.

Despite a title that sells out to the US market - Simon is a probation officer and the word "parole" is never uttered - this is a thoroughly British comedy. Yet, while all those post-American Pie gross-out comedies are dying a death at the box office, The Parole Officer dishes up a vomit gag that would make the Farrelly brothers soil their pants with envy.

That's not to say that The Parole Officer aims low, rather that it fills its trolley with something from every shelf in the comedy supermarket - pratfalls, one-liners, spoof scenes, character-based quirks, satisfying pay-offs from carefully constructed set-ups and even one shameless (but hilarious) single entendre. The general sense of fun also extends to the soundtrack, which references The Magnificent Seven and Bond movies. So even when a necessary chunk of plot takes its time unravelling on screen, we're treated to a constant flow of laughs.

Anyone who's slagged off Lottery-funded movies had better stop moaning now. DNA Films - formed from Lottery millions by Trainspotting's Andrew Macdonald and Four Weddings And A Funeral's Duncan Kenworthy - has got the formula right this time. Too many Brit movies are rushed into production, but the care taken with developing The Parole Officer's script really shows. Granted, it's not a perfect screenplay - the use of a surprise cameo appearance not once, but twice, is slightly desperate - but it's a tight little number that doesn't waste a single scene.

A few months ago, it was Bridget Jones that clawed UK screens back from Hollywood dominance. Now it's Simon Garden's chance to make sure that, this year at least, the Brits are laughing all the way to the bank.

Lottery-funded movies have been in the dock recently, but The Parole Officer is their Get Out Of Jail Free card. It's a brilliantly polished, very funny script that catapults one of Britain's best TV comedians into a whole new cinematic sphere.

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