British comedy films can be rather hit and miss and in the case of ‘Walk Like A Panther’, it unfortunately looks like we have another miss on our hands despite having a promising premise and cast.
22 years after the plug was pulled on British Wrestling on TV, a close-knit community in West Yorkshire squeeze themselves back into their spandex in order to save their local pub, the ‘Half Nelson’ – which is run by Mark Bolton (Stephen Graham) who has wanted to wrestle in the ring all his life after growing up surrounded by his Dad and his wrestling family, the ‘Panthers’. With his pub being closed down by the brewery, Mark sets out to prove himself in the ring to make enough money to save the heart of his community and prove to his dad he has what it takes to be a Panther.
Stephen Graham is a fantastic lead and manages to make the most of a shoddy script by making some of the poor humour quite laughable with his charm and natural comedic delivery. Dave Johns plays the Panther’s leading man and Mark Bolton’s father, but the former was always more important to him than the latter. Johns is great at delivering an emotional gut punch, you only need to watch ‘I, Daniel Blake’ to see what I mean, but his performance is undermined by poorly written jokes and his character not getting the attention he deserves.
The supporting cast were all fantastic, with each of their personalities offering something different to the attempt at humour. The film also benefited from having such a big age range between its cast members, with the older Panthers getting help from some of the teens in the community who help promote the fight on social media. Stephen Tompkinson plays the villain of the piece as the manager of the region’s breweries and wants nothing more than to demolish the ‘Half Nelson’. Tompkinson plays his character as if he were a villain in a pantomime – his dialogue delivery is eccentric and purposely villainous and it’s completely jarring because it feels like his character is in the wrong film. The same could be said for Steve Furst’s character when we first meet him, but as he spends more time on screen with the other characters, it becomes less of an issue and his character becomes believable.
Michael Socha (‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘This Is England’) plays one of those dickhead-type teenagers who is always blasting their shitty music and has no dress sense.. You know the one. His character instantly gets on your nerves from the moment he’s introduced to us, but he later becomes an integral part of the story when he is shunned by his friends and becomes a sort of mentor to Mark to help him train for the big fight. I personally didn’t see this redemption arc coming, but it’s sincerity was lost on the audience with the poor attempts at humour.
Upon doing a little research I discovered this premise was originally pitched as a TV series by Dan Cadan back in 2011 but it wasn’t picked up – which is a shame because I think this idea would have worked a lot better had if we’d have gotten to know the characters more and had a better build up to the event. To rub some salt in the wound, it also looks like the majority of the cast in the film were lined up to play their respective roles in the TV show too, which would have been perfect. A little more character depth in this film would have gone a long way.
The only thing I took away from this film was how much more I want to see of Lena Headey, who makes a criminally brief (and I mean extremely brief) cameo appearance (uncredited) as the head of the brewery. Kudos to the writers for managing to work in a ‘Game of Thrones’ related joke (my best laugh of the entire film) that didn’t come off as cheesy or feel shoehorned in.
You will undoubtedly find this film in the bargain bin of your local shop shortly after it’s home release. A lot of the jokes fail to land, and most will fly over the heads of people outside the Yorkshire border. The cast do their best with what they’re given, but even the gorgeous Yorkshire backdrop isn’t enough to draw me into a second viewing of this film.
Directed By: Dan Cadan
Cast: Stephen Graham, Dave Johns, Stephen Tompkinson, Steve Furst