Britain has produced a fair number of dark comedies with murderer protagonists, the greatest being the Ealing Studios classic Kind Hearts and Coronets. The new film Whoops! attempts to follow in that lineage, with a twist: Rose Clements is a faithful wife and mother who just keeps accidentally murdering strangers. It’s a setup with a lot of potential, but Whoops! ends up as a swing and a miss, a surprisingly toothless and dull spin on the crime comedy genre.
…Whoops! ends up as a swing and a miss, a surprisingly toothless and dull spin on the crime comedy genre.
The premise, of course, is utterly ridiculous. Rose (Elaine Glover) lives happily with her husband Dave (Philip Rowson) and two children. Aside from the occasional advance made by her leering boss, her life seems devoid of conflict. Yet she keeps slipping up, perhaps because of her nervous disposition. Every time a man approaches who looks even vaguely threatening, Rose tenses up and attacks, leading to her kill through unlikely circumstances (she stabs one victim’s eye out with her keys, and hits the jugular of another with a broken clipboard). Dave, fiercely loyal and dependent on Rose, helps her cover up these accidents by disposing of the bodies. Rose also attempts to atone for her crimes through acts of kindness, but her contrition does not extend to turning herself in. Meanwhile the local police and sensationalistic television news wonder if the crimes are disconnected flukes, or the work of a dastardly serial killer.
All this feels like the set up for hilarious hijinks, and Whoops! is certainly pitched like a comedy, even a manic, screwball one. Both Glover and Rowson go over the top in their performances, pumping energy into their characters. And there are goofy minor characters galore, the best of which is Dave’s burnout helper Callum (Paul Tomblin), whose clueless charm helps offset the overabundance of stoner jokes that float around him like a haze from one of his skiffs. The plot twists and turns, spiraling further and further out into cartoon land.
Whoops! has enough going for it around the edges that it manages to keep from being a complete fiasco. It has a nice, clean feel to the cinematography, capturing a lo-fi feel without seeming cheap.
Yet in the end the film lacks one essential element needed to make a comedy work: a punchy script. The screenplay, written by co-directors Tony Hipwell and Miles Watts, feels like a working draft, one of those barebones affairs where the intent was to come back in later and add more jokes to spice the thing up. Plenty of moments occur when something shocking gets juxtaposed with something “normal”, but the tension rarely gets parlayed into actual humor. There were very few moments that made me even smile or chuckle, let alone give a good honest laugh. The dearth of humor serves to make the structure of the film double frustrating - all promise and no payoff, like someone handed you an eclair with all the filling sucked out.
The film also makes a few attempts at what I assume is satire, trying to play up the frenzied muckraking of media outlets. This feels equally dull, castrated by the lack of edge in the writing. The film has some points it wants to make about dependency and honest in relationships, but these too get brushed aside. All this sloppiness culminates in a trainwreck of an ending, where bodies pile up in nonsensical fashion and the motivations of the characters feel completely out of whack.
Whoops! has enough going for it around the edges that it manages to keep from being a complete fiasco. It has a nice, clean feel to the cinematography, capturing a lo-fi feel without seeming cheap. Many of the sets and effects are quite nice, and the cast is uniformly pretty solid. Indeed, the film is more than competently directed; Hipwell and Watts clearly have chops behind the camera. If only their keenness of eye had extended to their own screenplay, Whoops! would have been more than just a soporific might have been.
The film sabotages promising elements with a limp, punchless script. Whoops!, indeed.