Review of Keeping Mum in Daily Mail (London, England), 12/2/2005

We're all doomed.(Movie Review)


Keeping Mum (15)

Verdict: Dud's the word **

KEEPING MUM is Nanny McPhee for homicidal maniacs. Dame Maggie Smith plays a twinkly but conscience-free senior citizen hired as housekeeper - we're never told the name of the agency: Killers R Us? - by a boring, humourless country vicar (Rowan Atkinson) and his would-be adulterous wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) to help them look after their nymphomaniac teenage daughter (Tasmin Edgerton) and muchbullied younger son (Toby Parkes).

In the tradition of Kathleen Turner in John Waters' Serial Mom, a much funnier movie, Dame Maggie sets about murdering anyone who gets in the way of her concept of an idyllic family life, from the barking dog next door and its deaf owner (James Booth) to a gang of school bullies and a philandering voyeuristic golf pro.

(The latter is played by erstwhile star Patrick Swayze, who now seems entirely moulded out of plastic, in a double entendre-ridden performance best passed over in compassionate silence.) Writer-director Niall Johnson and his co-writer Richard Russo aim for black comedy in the Ealing mould, but they are miles away from the wit of Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Ladykillers, and the idea of a narrative twist appears even further beyond them.

Not surprisingly, the movie doesn't want to confront the underlying unpleasantness of its central character; but, fatally for its commercial prospects, it fails to convince us, even briefly, that her victims deserve to die.

The worst moments evoke nightmarish memories of Michael Winner's Parting Shots, in which Chris Rea ran amok with a gun and the worst script of 1999.

Dame Maggie is, thank heaven, no Chris Rea. I did smile a few times, usually at her cheerful callousness.

Another thing that makes Keeping Mum tolerable is that Scott Thomas and (perhaps surprisingly) Atkinson play their roles with more truth and humanity than they deserve.

This is the kind of amiable, lowpowered offering that might keep you watching and even mildly enjoying it, were you to come across it on TV; but putting it up against the kind of high quality, big-budget entertainment available this Christmas is a bit like entering a Datsun Cherry for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Sorry, but you're just not funny, guys...