Harry Hill's big screen debut is a bit of a misfire. Hill's humour has always had a random and surreal quality but the screenplay here isn't so much offbeat as utterly feeble. For all the comedian's antic charm, it is very hard to keep patience with a story which hinges on the health of a toy hamster.
As the action begins, Harry is living in suburbia with his Nan (a belligerent Julie Walters) and their beloved pet rodent Abu (voiced by Johnny Vegas). The little creature has fallen sick and is projectile vomiting green ink. A shifty looking vet (Simon Bird from The Inbetweeners) gives Abu only a week to live. Harry and Nan decide to take him on the trip of a lifetime to Blackpool. However, Harry's twin brother Otto (Matt Lucas), who was abandoned as a child to be raised by Alsatians, has his own designs on the hamster, who might not as ill as we suspect.
Some of the knockabout humour is engaging enough. There's a Chaplinesque fairground boxing bout in which Harry gets the better of a massive opponent by tickling him and a King Kong-style scene outside a nuclear power station. The lively cameos by Jim Broadbent as an old cleaning lady at the power station and by Sheridan Smith as the beautiful, shell-encrusted fish woman Michelle also help. You can't help but warm to the Dachsund Five - a canine act based on the Jackson Five.
At times, the filmmaking is reminiscent of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the first film by Tim Burton, which had a similarly whimsical narrative. Like Paul Reubens' Pee-wee, Harry is a comedian with a sense of humour that is innocent and child-like but with a subversive adult edge. The problem is that the Harry Hill movie doesn't have anything like the urgency that Burton brought to Pee-wee's quest for his stolen bicycle. The humour here is also very British. The action culminates with a scene on top of the Blackpool Tower.
At times, the filmmakers seem to be making a virtue of their own parochialism. From George Formby to The Crazy Gang and Will Hay, here is a long tradition of cheery, cheesy low budget, British comedy. However, The Harry Hill Movie, whose producer also made The Usual Suspects, clearly wasn't done on a shoestring. Certain scenes - for instance, when the British army is called out to tackle Abu the hamster after he suffers radiation poisoning or even when Harry is lobbing a grenade at the hens - are on a very big scale. The costumes are elaborate too. The film's claim that it is "based on a true story" is obviously absurd but we do see footage of what we can only assume was Harry Hill's own pet hamster over the closing credits. Surely the little critter deserved a better tribute than this.