Nativity Rocks! This Ain’t No Silent Night

 

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Debbie Isitt's mysteriously popular festive amdram returns for a fourth outing.

   
Nativity Rocks! This Ain’t No Silent Night

Airheaded guitar: Rupert Turnbull, Simon Lipkin and Brian Bartle

 

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Debbie Isitt’s series of largely improvised nativity-themed burlesques are certainly bursting with charitable purpose. And their increasing regularity prompts thoughts of a Carry On Christmas tradition, with songs. The formula remains the same: a bunch of talentless kids attempts to mount a nativity for some type of competition and against the odds… well, you’ll have to see.

 

This year’s glutinous, rough-and-ready offering models itself on School of Rock. Here, the stage actor/singer Simon Lipkin jumps into the shoes of Jack Black to portray the idiotic man-child, the dynamo that drives the engine of the franchise. Lipkin plays Jerry Poppy, the brother of the insufferable Desmond Poppy (from the last three films), an orphan who has only just discovered the existence of the latter. So, Jerry drops everything to head to Coventry and St. Bernadette's primary school where he discovers that Desmond has left for Australia. However, in spite of exhibiting signs of sociopathic behaviour, he is immediately employed by the head mistress (Celia Imrie) to assist with the school’s upcoming rock opera. The bad news is that Jerry is every bit as imbecilic as his sibling, but in spite of a destructive streak (to demonstrate the rocker in him), he is all heart. And, of course, the children adore him.

 

At times, Nativity Rocks! feels like an extended sketch that has thrown out the rulebook. There are whole scenes that defy logic, most of the children can’t act (let alone sing) and the narrative arc is mind-numbingly predictable (in spite of all roads to improbability). Yet, for all its shortcomings, the film’s kamikaze energy almost subdues critical protest. As the Carry Ons were unapologetically smutty, so the Nativity franchise is as blithely sentimental as a John Lewis Christmas ad. It seems churlish to kick sand in the face of such innocuous bonhomie. Here, Isitt piles on the glucose with the introduction of a Syrian refugee, a mere child who, in the land of opportunity, has become parted from his father. The kid, Doru, has a surprising grasp of English and is repeatedly mistaken for a boy, although he looks like a girl. However, the boy who plays him – Brian Bartle – is no Jacob Tremblay, to put it kindly. There are good turns from Ruth Jones (as an eccentric, kind-hearted farmer) and Jessica Hynes (returning as Angel Matthews), but most of the better-known faces seem to be slumming it. As the celebrity judge of the rock operatic contest, Craig Revel Horwood (the celebrity judge of Strictly Come Dancing) is, frankly, embarrassing, while Lipkin is largely unwatchable, although his exuberance, I suppose, is laudable.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Simon Lipkin, Craig Revel Horwood, Daniel Boys, Anna Chancellor, Helen George, Hugh Dennis, Jessica Hynes, Meera Syal, Vincent Franklin, Gabriel Vick, Ramin Karimloo, Brian Bartle, Rupert Turnbull, Celia Imrie, Jamie Chapman.

 

Dir Debbie Isitt, Pro Nick Jones, Screenplay Debbie Isitt, Ph Sean Van Hales, Pro Des Lenka Dobranska, Ed Nicky Ager, Music Nicky Ager, Costumes Andrew Cox.

 

Mirrorball Films-Entertainment One

100 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 23 November 2018. Cert. U.