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LAUGH A SHANDY; Three cheers for our Steve.

Byline: MARK ADAMS at the movies

A COCK AND BULL STORY (15)

THE STARS Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Dylan Moran, Gillian Anderson, Kelly Macdonald.

THE STORY Loosely based on Laurence Sterne's famously unreadable classic novel - The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman - A Cock And Bull Story is actually a satire about the film business.

Coogan plays not only Shandy, but his father Walter, the author Sterne and also himself. The story follows the filming of a book deemed unfilmable, on a small budget and with the various co-stars bickering about their roles.

Coogan and Brydon engage in a running squabble about various aspects of the film, from the size of their billing to the height of Coogan's shoes.

WHAT'S GOOD? A masterful and hilarious take on the dubious joys of film-making - a clever, inventive and wonderfully performed British film packed with delicious moments and highlighted by a stunning performance by Steve Coogan.

Director Michael Winterbottom can be annoyingly inconsistent - for every good film he makes, usually a poor one follows - but fortunately he is in terrific form here.

Reunited with Coogan - they made 24 Hour Party People together - Winterbottom displays a great ability to handle humour, a skill only glimpsed at in previous films.

Coogan and Brydon make a memorable double act. Coogan's character is pompous yet paranoid while Brydon is keen and ambitious and always ready to wind up his fellow actor with yet another Alan Partridge impersonation. Coogan also has to handle the arrival of his wife (Macdonald) and baby which coincides with a journalist trying to dig dirt on him as he tries to romance his personal assistant Jennie (Naomie Harris).

Brydon has his own problems as he is terrified about having to act alongside X-Files star Gillian Anderson.

A top cast also includes David Walliams, Keeley Hawes, Jeremy Northam and Ian Hart.

There is so much fun to be had that the film deserves a second or even a third visit!

WHAT'S BAD? If you don't like Coogan or Brydon then this film just won't be appealing to you. The comedy is rude and smartly satirical, but at times there is just so much going on that it is easy to miss an aside or comment.

The complexity of the story, switching from modern movie-making to 18th Century affairs, is mildly problematic at times and there are perhaps too many supporting characters that are never fully developed.

The fan in me would also love to see more of the terrific Naomie Harris - but that is just quibbling.

HOW LONG IS IT? A memorable 94 mins.

FINAL VERDICT The funniest British film in a while. Irreverent, impressive and irresistible.

Opens Friday January 20

CAPTION(S):

Double act...Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 15, 2006
Words:456
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