Director: Matt Wilde
Starring: Warren Brown, Greg McHugh, Alistair Petrie
Release Date: 21st April 2016 (UK)
Featuring a respectable British cast including Fresh Meat‘s Greg McHugh with a highly offputting cockney accent, Kicking Off is a football drama with a little more meat than your average sport film, but less heart than the classics. Then of course a story about the kidnapping of a mistaken referee by a vengeful fan isn’t exactly the making of the next Cool Runnings.
As the film opens to a narratation from one of our protagonists we learn the unfortunate fate of their favourite team, triggered by one even more unfortunate decision dooming them to relegation much to the aghast of the local pub-dwellers. As the film weaves through a Kingsman style freeze-frame at the opening of a bar brawl we see Wigsy, a seemingly well-composed man watching the chaos unfold. Cut to the following day and Wigsy has “only gone and done it”.
Sure enough, sat tied to a chair in his living room is the referee from the previous day’s match. What ensues is some sort of hybrid between a buddy movie and a crime caper as Wigsy and best mate Cliff attempt to prolong the kidnap as much as possible, though in a realistically British way have no idea what they want out of it. In a refreshing perspective from the usual crime thriller fare, Kicking Off injects more social realism, seemingly conceived with one question in mind: what would happen if we really tried to kidnap someone?
The answer is a foolish, ill-thought ploy that leads to little else but someone’s arrest and a couple of news headlines. But it is just this sort of anti-climactic spin that makes this film stand out and injects a broader appeal beyond the sport itself.
One of the overarching themes throughout the story is that of belief – whether it be belief in God or believe in the game, Wigsy and the referee are poised as polar opposites; two men equally committed to their own beliefs, destined never to understand one another. However, belief is not just used to create this handy binary opposite, but to imbue empathy into a character who would otherwise be a two-dimensional football thug. Wigsy’s plight lies in his quest to find something to believe in – his belief in love was shattered by past experience, so when his belief in the legitimacy of football, and by default the world in which he has defined himself, is challenged he takes extraordinary action.
Make no mistake, there are numerous occasions when Kicking Off feels more like an extended episode of Hollyoaks then a feature film with any production value, but the often shady execution was propped up by a story with genuine depth, concluding with an uncharacteristic musical sequence reminiscent of Bugsy Malone and an original song which was actually quite impressive.
You don’t need to be a football fan to take some enjoyment from Kicking Off, but it’s not a classic.