Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbours, boys and girls, how can I put this? Easily enough I suppose: The Inbetweeners 2 is appalling. Not in the sense that it is in any way shoddily made or poorly performed, but simply because the level of the humour should by rights be utterly repugnant to any reasonable civilised person. The movie's first really big laugh concerns a man in a skirt having his genitalia licked by a dog, and the directors spare you very little of the detail. Then again, I'm not sure how much of this should come as a surprise.
The first Inbetweeners movie surprised everyone by outperforming major Hollywood blockbusters and recouping its budget twentyfold on its release in 2011, so a sequel was always on the cards, I suppose. One does get a sense that all the key people involved were having a contest to see who could make the most outrageous demands as part of their deal for this follow-up: the leading quartet have all been bumped up to Associate Producer status, while writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have received the opportunity to direct this time around. I was rather dubious about the prospects of the new movie: there haven't been any new episodes of the TV show it's based on for a number of years, and, well, we've surely all grown up a bit, haven't we? Well, apparently not, given it had the biggest opening weekend in the UK of any film this year. Hmm.
Six months have passed for our heroes since the last film, and what little maturity and character-development they received there seems not to have taken. Will (Simon Bird) is still unpopular and delusional, accident-prone Si (Joe Thomas) still has zero control of his own love-life, Jay (James Buckley) is still a pathological liar and borderline sex pest, and only marginally-sentient Neil (Blake Harrison) is still intellectually challenged to the point where he can't quite grasp the concept of a double-barrelled surname.
Feeling unhappy with their lot in the UK, Will, Simon, and Neil decide to go and visit Jay, who is on a working holiday in Australia. To the surprise of no-one, Jay's descriptions of his circumstances and lifestyle turn out to have been wildly exaggerated: rather than having it large as a top DJ and living in a mansion, Jay is actually working as a toilet attendant and living in a tent on his uncle's lawn. However, they resolve not to let this spoil the trip, and a chance encounter with a girl Will used to know (Emily Berrington) leads to the suggestion that the quartet hit the backpacking trail! Provided the backpacking trail goes close to a water park, anyway...
Whatever else one might say about the first Inbetweeners film, you'd have to be a real curmudgeon to deny the fact that it did contain some of the funniest moments on the big screen that year. And same is also true of the new one. There are, once again, moments which left me breathless and aching with laughter: Simon Bird's extraordinary falsetto rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face in a desperate attempt to impress a girl is just funny, funny, funny, in a way which is very hard to put into words. And there is clearly some intelligence at work in the script, as well – on the face of it, a leading quartet composed of a pseud, an idiot, a misogynist and a moron might present some problems when it comes to generating audience sympathy, and one of the ways this is circumvented is by setting the four in opposition to a bunch of other characters who are arguably even worse: a gaggle of self-regarding 'travellers'.
And yet, and yet... I don't know, this time round the bar seems to have been raised when it comes to the big moments of gross-out comedy. The first film felt pretty extreme, but there are numerous moments in this one which are absolutely vile. Human urine is about the least objectionable of the bodily substances which are central to much of the comedy - I admit that I was laughing, sort of, but I was also groaning and covering my eyes as well. Perhaps this is just a question of personal taste, but I was genuinely repelled, a bit. There are some brilliantly written and performed (relatively) clean scenes in this film - Will's tirade against pretentious trustafarian travellers deserves to be enscribed in marble and erected outside every airport in south Asia – so it didn't feel to me as if the extreme stuff was really required. And it is extreme: often too extreme to be really credible, which for me was also a problem.
I suppose I should also mention the casual and 'ironic' misogyny scattered throughout the film. Most of this comes from Jay, who is intended to be a pathetic character, but I got the distinct impression that someone was trying to have their cake and eat it. We get a vivid glimpse of Jay's peculiar fantasy life early in the film, which no doubt is intended ironically, but I'm not sure it's possible to fill the screen with attractive naked women in an ironic way. The girls in the movie are by no means treated as scathingly as the boys, but they remain secondary characters, and are either objects of desire or psychopathic harpies. Some deeply dodgy racial stereotyping puts in an appearance before the end of the closing credits, too.
In the end, I really don't know how much of this stuff was included because it's genuinely what the writer-directors thought was funny, and how much it's an attempt to meet audience expectations by out-grossing the first film, but by the end of the film it was starting to feel forced, and that was a problem. The film is still funny, provided you can take the filth, but on the whole I found it less satisfying than the original, for all that the leads are still on winning form (even if Greg Davies is only in one scene).
We are promised (again) that The Inbetweeners 2 is the definitely final chapter in the series, no matter how well it performs. The massive box-office of this film makes me a little bit dubious about whether that will prove to be true, but I hope so. Quite apart from the fact that the cast are starting to look slightly ridiculous pretending to be 18-year-olds (Simon Bird is now in his thirties), it's hard to see where they can go next without engaging in displays of contrived degeneracy on such a spectacular scale as to make the film almost totally unwatchable. It would be a shame for what was once one of the freshest and funniest comedy series in Britain to collapse into weary self-parody. For pity's sake, enough.