CAST: Kelly Preston, Jenny Seagrove, Sally Phillips, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips, Ben Miller, Franco Nero, Judi Dench, Andrea Corr, Peter Bowles
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
BASICALLY…: A group of estranged friends (Preston, Seagrove and Phillips) must travel across Europe to honour their friend’s dying wish…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It is a pure tragedy that Off The Rails was the final film that actress Kelly Preston worked on, before her untimely passing last year following a battle with breast cancer. However, while it’s bittersweet seeing the late actress up on the big screen one last time, it’s even more upsetting that the film which ended up being her swan song is far from the kind of stellar picture worthy of such a performer.
Director Jules Williamson’s female-driven European road trip comedy is an unfortunate flat tyre of a movie, the kind that has had all of its air squeezed out and has been left to plod along at an awkward pace. Sitting through it is even more uncomfortable, because you can clearly see elements of a halfway decent movie buried somewhere within the rubble, but you’re left watching the mediocre-at-best version instead.
The film opens as three friends in their fifties – vapid actress Cassie (Preston), moody author Kate (Jenny Seagrove) and tightly-wound doctor Liz (Sally Phillips) – receive the call that their friend Anna has suddenly died from cancer. At the funeral, the three women are approached by Anna’s mother, played by Judi Dench – who, despite being one of the top-billed actresses, is only in the movie for two scenes, all before the opening credits start playing – who instructs them to carry out Anna’s final wish and make the journey across Europe to Mallorca, in time for a rare occurrence where the sun shines through the city cathedral’s giant stained-glass window, which the group weren’t able to catch on a trip many years ago. Accompanying them along the journey is Anna’s grieving teenage daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips), and soon all four travellers end up on a series of European misadventures, from going on a blind date with musician Dan (Ben Miller), to winding up lost somewhere in the Italian countryside.
The problem is, none of it is really all that interesting. The script, written by Jordan Waller, settles for a safe and all too formulaic structure that reduces any real sense of tension or conflict, because not only do you know pretty much every beat it’s going to make along the way – as soon as a money belt is introduced that holds all of their passports and finances, you immediately know what’s going to become of it – but none of the characters in this movie ever act like anything that happens, even the worst possible scenario, is really as serious as it actually is. When bad stuff happens, you’ll certainly get a panicked reaction every now and then, but most of the time these people just laugh a lot of their issues off without seemingly a care in the world. It puts the viewer in an awkward position, because if the people we’re supposed to be following throughout this story don’t seem to care that much about most things, then there is no reason why we should care either, and so there ends up not being a whole lot to latch onto, whether it’s a lot of the dried-up and obvious humour – the main characters are in their fifties, so of course there’s cheery menopause jokes galore – or even the soundtrack.
Speaking of which, one of the film’s big marketing gimmicks (outside of Judi Dench’s brief appearance, which I guarantee the only reason she’s in this movie at all is so they can advertise her presence in the trailers) is that the soundtrack is comprised of classic songs by Blondie. The filmmakers certainly flaunt the fact that they were able to gain access to the band’s back catalogue, except that they clearly had no idea how to properly utilise it outside of playing their songs endlessly on the soundtrack, at several random intervals. They play all the expected hits, like “The Tide Is High” and “Heart of Glass”, and not once but twice they play “Call Me” in scenes where the main characters are rushing to catch a train (I don’t know this for a fact, but it feels like Off The Rails plays that song more than American Gigolo does, and it was originally written as that movie’s theme). It’s one thing to have a popular name like Blondie dominate the soundtrack, but when the film hardly integrates their music into the narrative – save for one poignant moment when, during Anna’s funeral, an organ version of the band’s single “Dreaming” plays while the characters mournfully sing along – it quickly becomes evident that they are simply using the soundtrack to distract from its otherwise lifeless endeavours. Perhaps if it had been morphed into a Mamma Mia!-type jukebox musical, then it would have fared better because at least then there would have been more of a reason for all these hit songs to even be here at all.
Instead, it’s all just a thinly-plotted, entirely predictable set of events where you’re left caring neither for the main characters, nor their apparently strong past connection because it rarely even dives into what their younger selves might have been like. Characters who really should have been given more screen-time, particularly Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips as the grieving teen daughter of the person whose death sets everything in motion, are reduced to personality-free sidekick roles, left to literally stand aside and watch these three rather obnoxious middle-aged women embarrass themselves on a regular basis across Europe, from aggravating local police to sleeping with the likes of Franco Nero, who also cameos as the mayor of a small Italian town (and who at least has more of his dignity intact here than he did in the far worse The Time Of Their Lives, which saw the 79-year-old actor go full-frontal for absolutely no reason). You really don’t care about these people nor their well-intentioned plight, because the script and direction is far more focused on flexing its Blondie soundtrack than it is with developing its characters or its story into something much more worthwhile.
I suppose if you’re of a certain age group and want some light, overly safe entertainment – the film has been given a 15 certificate for language, but take that out of it and this could have easily gotten by with at least a PG – you might find something to enjoy. For everyone else, though, Off The Rails probably should have gone off the rails a lot more.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Off The Rails is a wildly underwhelming road-trip comedy that wastes good actors (among them the late Kelly Preston), a decent premise and a Blondie soundtrack on an overly formulaic and uninteresting chain of minor events.