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Sex Lives of the Potato Men DVD cover

Devotion Films
Director: Andy Humphries
Story & screenplay: Andy Humphries
Cinematography: Andy Collins
Music: Super Preachers
Editor: Guy Bensley
Production design: Patrick Lyndon-Stanford, Adam Zoltowski
Cast: Johnny Vegas (Dave), Mackenzie Crook (Ferris), Mark Gatiss (Jeremy), Dominic Coleman (Tolly), Barry Aird (Gherkin Man), Joy Aldridge (Sauna woman), Jeff Alexander (Bloke in group sex), Annette Bentley (Linda), Adrian Chiles (Towel man/Poppy's brother), Julia Davis (Shelley), Lucy Davis (Ruth), Amerjit Deu (Doctor), Justin Edgar ( Chip Shop customer ), Huss Garbiya (Beans), Evie Garratt (Joan's Mum), Robert Harrison (Kevin), Carol Harvey (Chip Shop Girl 2), Nick Holder (Gordon), Alfie Hunter (Matthew), Laurence Inman (Bored Bloke in porn shop), Jenny Jay (Coma woman/Helen), Ceris Jones (Bald man), Helen Latham (Chip Shop Girl), Kay Purcell (Gloria), Nicola Reynolds ( Poppy ), Kate Robbins (Joan), Angela Simpson (Vicky), Nicholas Tennant (Phil), Betty Trew (Katie)

This film is available on DVD from
When Sex Lives of the Potato Men was released in early 2004, it was met by universal howls of derision. How, thundered the critical establishment, could the British Film Council justify ploughing public funds into so crude and charmless a production? What these assorted estimable scribes and pundits neglected to do, in their undignified rush to join the concensus, was to think a little more deeply about what actually constitutes a healthy film industry.

If you think of any of the golden ages of cinema - Italy in the 60s, the US in the 70s, Hong Kong in the 80s - the main identifiable characteristic is the mix of high and low brow films that were made. The cheaper, coarser films had a vital and underappreciated function: they provided a vibrant training ground for artists and technicians who would go on to much better things elsewhere. Without the low budget, without the unuashamedly populist, what do you have? You have British cinema of the 1980s, when production numbers dropped off to practically nothing, a generation of prospective talent was thoroughly and completely wasted, and the few films that were made were so relentlessly earnest that they're well nigh unwatchable today.

Okay, so Sex Lives is hardly a great cinematic work. Heck, it's hardly even a passable one: a virtually plotless attempt to mix the US gross-out school of comedy - as epitomized by the Farrelly brothers and Tom Green - with a more parochial stream of British humor. But that's not the point. There are bad films being made all over the place, and this is certainly not the worst comedy film to be made in the UK over the past decade. That particular honor belongs to the limp and mawkish Sliding Doors , starring the limp and mawkish Gwynneth Paltrow, which received a reasonable reception from the same critics who took such delight in their condemnation of this. No, the point is that this must have cost a pittance, has a likeable cast who will undoubtedly go on to much better things and, goddammit, isn't that badly made at all.

The narrative, such as it is, concerns four hapless 'potato men', whose job it is to supply potatoes to the catering trade in and around Birmingham . Oversexed MacKenzie Crook is having problems with his randy landlady, Johnny Vegas is splitting up from his wife after the birth of their first child, Mark Gatiss has resorted to stalking his ex-girlfriend and Tolly (YY) is so deeply unappealing that even his mates find him revolting. They all get involved in various sexual antics - ranging from suburban orgies to sado-masochistic voyeurism - and it all ends with everything pretty much the same as it begun.

It's all extremely crude, and a lot of the humor is overworked to the point of becoming annoying. However, there are some laughs to be had; most particularly, I suspect, when the main leads are allowed to digress from the screenplay and do their own thing. Vegas, in particular, is at his best with the incidentals: one tiny sequence of him trying to clamber over a fence is funnier than any of the scripted material. I must confess to never having particularly warmed to his brand of comedy, but on the evidence of this he has the capability to develop into a Sid James style comedian, playing variations of himself amongst a crowd of like minded performers. MacKenzie Crook (grotesque Gareth from The Office ) and Mark Gatiss (from The League of Gemtlemen ) are more actorly, and both will go on to do much more interesting stuff. Crook, in particular, makes the most unlikely ladies man: a gangling, shadow-eyed beanpole who makes Robin Askwith (from Confessions of a Window Cleaner , a natural progenitor to this) look like Jude Law.

Still, despite its many shortcomings, I can't fault the filmmakers in their attempt to update the distinctly un-lamented British sex comedy genre for the new millennium. The problem they face is that sex is old hat now - there is no dirty raincoat brigade willing pay in the hope of seeing some pretty girls in the nude; they can log on to full blown hardcore through your internet connection. So just who's the target audience? Well, it appears to be teenagers, much as with the scatological Harry Enfield vehicle Kevin and Perry Go Large (2000). Unsurprisingly, then, it seems that despite all the coruscating reviews, Sex Lives of the Potato Men has experienced some success in DVD form.

Incidentally, if any more evidence were required to demonstrate the lemming-like tendency of critics, this was released at about the same time that David Walliams and Matt Lucas' Little Britain was shifting from cult to mainstream favorite. Although Little Britain is the superior of the two, there are a number of similarities and a dependence on overly-repeated gross out humour. The most striking example of this is the presence of Evie Garratt as a pensioner who gets inveigled into sex acts in both productions. Apparently, the same joke is funny in one case and represents the nadir of contemporary comedy in the other. Go figure.

Matt B