Billed as ‘a buddy comedy heist movie, Clerks meets Dog Day Afternoon,‘ Convenience is one of the best British comedy films in recent years. Ray Panthaki, perhaps most known for co-producing instant cult hit Kidulthood, presents us with a film undoubtedly in the leagues of Shaun of the Dead and Four Lions.
Convenience – of which director Keri Collins won the Bafta Cymru Breakthrough Award for – revolves around Ajay (Ray Panthaki) and Shaan (Adeel Ahktar), two hapless anti-heroes that manage to owe dangerous Russian strip club owners a couple of grand by morning. That’s just the type of believably unlucky people they are. Deciding on impulse to rob the first business they can, they eventually succeed in taking hostages and securing the money they need. What they don’t plan for is a time lock safe which won’t open until 6am. To avoid arousing suspicion, the pair must then work there all night until they can grab the money and go.
Whilst the film has its fair share of action and physical comedy, the most compelling aspect of Convenience is the interaction between characters. Shot over 18 days with a micro-budget of £80,000 and set mostly in an unassuming petrol station just outside of Swansea, a close focus on developing relationships between the hostages and robbers is allowed in a refreshing way despite the heist-gone-wrong premise of the film being largely familiar to us all. Each of the character expositions becomes relevant as the film progresses and matters complicate, and there are several touching moments from cashier Levi (Vicky McClure) whose need to escape an unmoving life is realised alongside her need to escape her hostage takers, to characters such as Barry, (Anthony Head) a suicidal customer talked down by the dopey Shaan. This film has heart more honest than most, and picks up on the varying problems of almost every character, be they minor or main.
Moreover, the film matches its heart with hilarity. With the combination of straight-man Ajay and lovably unaware dimwit Shaan, sod’s law comes into action; everything that can go wrong does go wrong throughout the night. Truly clueless in how to both hold up a store and work in retail, the pair must enlist hostage Levi to continue her cashier duties whilst looking on in second-hand embarrassment as they fail to act natural dealing with the strange late-night customers. Interspliced are shots of the safe clock counting down until 6am, reminding us of the situation’s tension in contrast with the clumsy conduct of Ajay and Shaan.
As perfect as the comedic timing of this film may be, perhaps the scene with Verne Troyer, playing a crude, outspoken short American customer, is puzzling. Whilst the scene was still well written and received just as many laughs, they were unsure laughs as the tone felt a bit misplaced within the rest of the film. I would hazard a guess that his star status was considered when casting him, as he was the only character in the entire cast to not have some sort of relevance to the wider plot other than an outlet for the physical comedy of Shaan picking up a short man to reach a bottle of wine – plus a couple of dick jokes for good measure. I suppose having such a big American name on the film’s billing will certainly fill a few more cinema seats, even if he does only get minimal screen time. Nevertheless, the scene does not necessarily detract from the film’s quality; it was just a bit confusing, is all.
If you’ve been searching for your next quotable cult film, then I’d suggest to stop being disappointed by America’s increasingly poor attempts and keep a keen eye on British cinema instead. Convenience is exemplary of an understated British comedy, where jokes aren’t overworked pop culture references but purely focused on the funny side of human interaction in dark situations. It is an all-round heart warming and hilarious film, and it would not be surprising if it receives an instant cult following after its release.
CONVENIENCE is in UK cinemas on 2 October.