At holiday parties, Judge Gordon Sullivan is disappearing into the role of a wall.
"Chris Lilley is back, and better than ever."
Some comic actors can disappear into numerous roles with almost chameleonic grace. Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy have made movies based essentially on the premise "I can be more than one person—look how funny it is!" When this technique works well (Mrs. Doubtfire), it's because both characters that are being contrasted are equally developed. It's not just a routine or a "Look, it's a guy in drag!" situation. When it doesn't work so well (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps), it's because there's very little to the presentation aside from marveling at the comedian's chameleonic disappearance. Angry Boys (Blu-ray) demonstrates that Australian comedian Chris Lilley has the chops to disappear into a variety of roles, but it also showcases the pitfalls of creating poorly drawn characters.
Angry Boys follows the lives of a quartet of angry young men These include twins Daniel and Nathan Sims (returning from Lilley's show We Can Be Heroes), surfer Blake Oakenfold, and rapper S.mouse. Lilley plays all of these characters, as well as the twin's grandmother, and Jen Okazaki, the mother of a rising skater. Using a pseudo-documentary style, Angry Boys follows the lives of these characters, showing what it's like to grow up as a young man in the twenty-first century.
Angry Boys gets two things right from the start. The first is its relentless documentary style. In the best tradition of mockumentary, Angry Boys provides us insights into the lives of these fictional characters. Because Lilley plays all the main characters here, there's an interesting virtuosity to how the editing of the show is constructed, a certain "How did they pull that off?" feeling to the whole affair that has some appeal.
The second thing the show gets right is Lilley's performance. He's obviously a talented comic actor. Even working with the thinnest of characterizations (which he is here), he differentiates all of these creations by costume and mannerism, impressively inhabiting even the most lackluster creation with a certain amount of life.
This Blu-ray set (from HBO, who co-financed the show and got its American distribution rights) is a solid affair as well. The 1.78:1/1080i AVC-encoded transfers are sharp and bright across the board. This is not a show that particularly revels in visual invention, but the mockumentary style is effectively presented here without digital hiccups or interlacing artefacting. The DTS-HD soundtracks are similarly impressive; dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the show's use of music is especially impressive.
Extras include six hours of deleted scenes. Yes, six hours of deleted material. Lilley apparently likes to improvise, so the shows are made up of material cut around his shenanigans. The good side is that some of the deleted scenes are as good as anything in the show, while the downside is that the six hours of deleted scenes make the actual episodes feel even more jumbled than they seem at first glance. We also get a couple of music videos for S.mouse, if that's your thing.
Comedy is always a bit more subjective than other forms of entertainment, but I don't mind saying that there isn't much about Angry Boys that made me laugh. Though I can recognize the lengths that Lilley is willing to go to get a laugh, the jokes fell flat more often than not. Part of the problem is that Angry Boys doesn't quite know what to do with its subject. The title suggests that the comedy will come out of the troubles of today's frustrated youth, but the show never really goes far enough in that direction. Instead, it offers re-heated takes on cultural stereotypes that (other than the omnipresence of the internet) could have been trotted out any time in the last couple of decades.
Those cultural stereotypes are another reason that numerous viewers will be turned off of Lilley's creation. Although I admire chameleonic attempts to disappear into a character, in Angry Boys Lilley raises some really ugly historical specters that he doesn't have the guts to deal with. Specifically, he performs as both Asian and black characters, and both times his makeup recalls the most horrific examples of cultural racism of the last couple of centuries. Though it might be "cool" and "edgy" in today's comedy climate, it comes off less as insensitive than just a missed opportunity. If Lilley was using blackface to say something about modern culture that was incisive or even interesting, his clowning could be forgiven. As it is, he uses blackface to give us yet another excessive rap stereotype.
Chris Lilley has a growing international fan base, and Angry Boys is his first work to really capitalize on that fact (at least as far as American viewers are concerned). The show demonstrates that Lilley has significant actorly chops, but the unfocused (and often offensive) presentation doesn't support his skills well. Fans of the show, however, will appreciate the six hours of deleted scenes and generally excellent audiovisual presentation on this Blu-ray set.
Guilty, but I guess that's the point.
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