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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Coogan's out on Parole
Steve Coogan playing a hapless parole officer
Coogan transfers his skills to the big screen
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

Comedian Steve Coogan has won himself a legion of fans through his work on TV. And they will no doubt rejoice that he has transferred his talents to film.

They should not, however, expect the biting parodies exemplified by Messers Partridge and Calf to have followed Coogan onto the big screen.

For his first major film role, Coogan has opted for a gentler breed of animal called Simon Garden and, in so doing, aimed for cross-the-board money-making appeal.

Garden is an inept, often irritating, but well-intentioned probation officer who has only succeeded in rehabilitating three criminals in his career.

Steve Coogan attracts trouble in his new film
Slapstick takes control in The Parole Officer
When he finds himself transferred from Blackpool to Manchester, Garden hopes to make a fresh - and more successful - start.

Unfortunately, the bumbling Garden has a habit of unwittingly attracting trouble for himself.

Consequently, he finds himself the innocent witness to a gangland murder for which the villain - a corrupt policeman - tries to frame him.

Having commandeered his three "success" stories into helping him, Garden plots to recover vital evidence - a CCTV videotape of the crime - from a bank vault to clear his name.

Energy

Coogan wrote The Parole Officer along with his long-standing business and creative partner Henry Normal.

Together they have concocted a script that is unashamedly slapstick with every conceivable falling off, into, over things type of gag thrown in.

So, if the brand of old-fashioned physical humour practised by Peter Sellers and Norman Wisdom is not to your taste, more than 20 minutes of this movie will probably get on your wick.

Ben Miller plays a bank robber in The Parole Officer
Ben Miller: One member of a strong support cast

But for those who can hold steady, Coogan the movie star is worth giving a chance.

In his own inimitable fashion, Coogan has created a character who elicits confusing feelings of extreme annoyance and pity.

Garden may be a clumsy, nšive oaf but Coogan plays him with such a deftness of touch that you have to marvel at the comedian's powers of human observation.

Equally remarkable is the energy with which Coogan, quite literally, throws himself into the role.

If writing and remembering all the fast and furious one-liners were not punishment enough, Coogan takes on some hair-raising 007-type stunts.

Excellence

Generously, Coogan has not saved all the limelight for himself, enrolling a likeable motley crew of bank-robbing accomplices to share in the laughs.

And as each comes laden with his, and her, own foibles the gang's plotting deteriorates into delightful bickering farce.

Also worth a mention is the unlikely involvement of Jenny Agutter as the widow of a master criminal.

Another star of yesteryear also puts in a surprise appearance but, if you do not already know, here is not the place to spill the beans and spoil the fun.

Yet, no matter how strong the back-up of the supporting cast, The Parole Officer is Coogan's film.

The script and plot are at times unoriginal and anyone who knows The Italian Job will get a distinct sense of dejŗ vu.

But its weaknesses can be forgiven with Coogan's comedic excellence there to hold everything together and save the day.

The Parole Officer is on general release from 10 August.

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The Parole Officer
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Steve Coogan
The actor and comedian talks to BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas
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