The-Stag-Quad-PosterThe mighty stag still holds a lot of comedy value, so much so Jon Turteltaub tried to do a geriatric version of The Hangover recently with Last Vegas that spawned a lukewarm response, even with a stellar cast onboard. Debut writer-director John Butler has tried to cash in on this fertile ground with his Irish version, The Stag, that boasts the stunning vistas of the Irish countryside as opposed to Vegas. The result is a safe and sanitised jaunt that disappointingly plays to caricature and the Carry On days of (giggle, giggle) ‘naughty’ nudity.

Mild-mannered groom-to-be Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) is getting married to stunning Ruth (Amy Huberman) but doesn’t want a stag party. He is far more interested in the wedding detail, like the centrepiece flower arrangements on the tables than getting raucous with the lads. Persuaded by Ruth, best man Davin (Andrew Scott) is tasked with organising a tame stag weekend of camping in the great outdoors. However, Ruth wants her macho, bigoted whirlwind of a brother, ‘The Machine’ (Peter McDonald), to be invited, much to the other guys’ horror. What follows is a weekend of enlightenment and secrets revealed that could make or break friendships.

Your expectations of something familiar but altogether different are ripe at the start, partly because the film dips in gently into introducing the effeminate Fionnan, the metrosexual man that every bride would be thankful for. The writing does feel stilted, as does the delivery, but there is an amicable rapport creeping through between the groom and his best man that curiosity is pricked as to how things might escalate. Sadly, the only time it really does is when The Machine shows up.

There is something just too déjà vu and cosy about the whole scenario that never tries to raise a surprise. Even the inevitable confrontation between Fionnan and Davin – that is screamingly obvious from the start – fails to lead to anything of memorable substance. Granted, the film could have gone in the other direction, leading to The Hangover comparisons. Although The Stag is more realistic in events than the Hollywood latter, it still needs something unique of shock value rather than consistently delivering on expectations.

Most of the gag reels are the exclusivity of McDonald – the funniest involving an electric fence. McDonald must have felt the weight of comic dependency on his shoulders in the role. No sooner has the plot delivered a few eyes-to-the-ceiling moments, mostly due to The Machine’s antics, than the boys are back at the inn, ready to return home. The acting is commendable as far as the script will allow, while the only character arc is that of The Machine’s.

The bromance is not lost in The Stag, however odd the grouping is. The implied question mark over Fionnan’s sexuality is never picked up and played out to death, thankfully, though you do feel somewhat cheated that it didn’t provide a much-needed twist. Even the film’s natural charm is questionable; is it the characters or that of wistful thoughts of the Emerald Isle at play here? It’s very hard to tell. Butler has produced a consumable first feature, though one that is crying out for more impropriety.