Directed by Robert Young. UK. 1993.

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If Britain wants a commercially sustainable film industry, it ought to abandon its disdain for mass audiences and make more of the kind of movie that we used to produce very profitably. Like thrillers, horror films and comedies. 

However, we could do without comedies like Splitting Heirs, which plays like a Hollywood executive's idea of what constitutes a good old British farce. 

The movie - written and executive produced by its star Eric Idle - must have struck the US as a surefire winner. It contains an ex-Monty Python member alongside one of America's biggest comedy stars (Rick Moranis) and it's filled with mistaken identities and naked men hiding in wardrobes. 

The plot has Idle, who was adopted by an Asian family as a child, discovering he should have inherited the title of Duke of Bournemouth, which went instead to an American playboy (Moranis). At the behest of an unscrupulous lawyer (John Cleese), Idle tries to hasten his succession to the dukedom by arranging a nasty accident. 

In fact, Splitting Heirs does have the bare bones of a funny movie - but nothing more. It seems to have been filmed from a synopsis, as though no one had the temerity to tell Idle that there weren’t enough actual jokes. 

Director Robert Young - whose work includes GBH and Jeeves and Wooster for TV plus the minor classic Vampire Circus - is reduced to plodding through a weak script. Sadie Frost and Stratford Johns are given promising roles which come to nothing, whilst the camera follows Catherine Zeta Jones adoringly. 

The chief compensation is Barbara Hershey (who Idle had the cheek to cast as his mother, even though she's younger than him). She tackles her role with the kind of relish which talented American actresses seem to reserve exclusively for weakly written nymphomaniac roles. 

John Cleese is effortlessly amusing, but his brief appearances only serve to highlight the fact that the film wants to cash in (belatedly) on the success of A Fish Called Wanda - and it just isn't up to it.

Darren Slade
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