Killing Bono: Disappointing U2 Feature

By Jeff Farr

Don’t expect any factual exposé on U2’s formative days in Nick Hamm’s “Killing Bono.” This is a broad comedy, a rock farce that is not necessarily about U2 or Bono; the band is sort of a plot device.

In U2’s place could have been any garage band from the sticks that becomes famous and in the process makes its old buddies sick with envy.

Hamm may have intended a “24 Hour Party People” vibe, but little in “Killing Bono” feels real. Michael Winterbottom’s film was also comic, but it made the Manchester scene come to life. It was its attention to detail that made that film one of the best rock movies in years.

In “Killing Bono,” Dublin rocker Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes, also known as “Prince Caspian”) and Bono (Martin McCann) are locked in a verbal wrestling match that goes on for years—at least in Neil’s mind. They both start out as front men for high school bands, but fortune will smile on only one of the two bands.

The early U2 and Bono come off as cocky, but less talented Neil takes cockiness to the extreme. His one-upmanship toward Bono becomes the center of his emotional life as an adult. Too bad for him that he picked the worst possible person to be his nemesis: the little man destined to become the world’s ultimate rock star. “It’s like some sick cosmic joke,” Neil bemoans.

Neil’s obsession culminates in a very unfunny and confusingly staged climax where, per the film’s title, Neil is literally driven to try to assassinate Bono at a “Joshua Tree” launch party. His girlfriend (Krysten Ritter) has done her best to encourage Neil that “they’re doing their thing, your doing yours,” but he can no longer listen to reason. His problem is Bono, he believes, not his own self-destructive tendencies. Kill Bono, and solve the problem once and for all.

The idea of killing rock stars is not funny; it is distasteful. The film also tries to make light of John Lennon’s death, with Neil mistaking his coworkers’ tears on hearing the sad news as their sorrow that he is moving to London and leaving them behind.

Much of “Killing Bono” takes place during Neil’s longish sojourn in London with his brother, Ivan (Robert Sheehan), as they try desperately to break into the music business while getting into various scrapes with women, industry types, the regular low lifes, and a bit of drugs.

It is the same old story of country bumpkins getting an education, losing their innocence, in the big city—and has little or nothing to do with U2.

The best thing they encounter in London is the late Pete Postlethwaite, who brings some verve to the film as the brothers’ gay landlord. Postlethwaite, in his final role, is the only actor in this film who knows how to work this material, keeping it funny and real enough at the same time. He whips out the film’s big line, some sage advice for the McCormick brothers: “The measure of a man is what’s left when fame falls away.”

Before the film gets to that point, however, Hamm has the brothers argue interminably in their loft. Barnes and Sheehan get stuck in a whiny loop, their pitch never altering, which becomes grating on the ear.

Neil is racked with guilt for, way back in high school, secretly convincing Bono to drop Ivan as U2’s rhythm guitarist. When Ivan finally finds out the truth, he is of course outraged: “You made the worst decision of my life!”

A drawback in “Killing Bono” is that Neil is such a loser, in every aspect of his life, that it is hard to muster that much sympathy for the character. Without a sympathetic lead, the film—which is based on the real Neil McCormick’s memoir, “I Was Bono’s Doppelganger”—has a hard time engaging the viewer.

Years go by. U2 goes from success to success: “Boy” to “October” to “War” to “The Unforgettable Fire” to “The Joshua Tree,” each new album announced with posters and billboards spread all over this film’s mise-en-scene.

The brothers at last start to taste some success of their own—although only when they finally give in to making their band sound kind of like U2. Neil being Neil, he has to make a fine mess of things one more time.

“Killing Bono” means to be fun, but Neil messes that one up, too.

Cast

Neil McCormick – Ben Barnes

Ivan McCormick – Robert Sheehan

Gloria – Krysten Ritter

Hammond – Peter Serafinowicz

Danny Machin – Stanley Townsend

Bono – Martin McCann

Karl – Pete Postlethwaite

Credits

An Arc Entertainment release.

Directed by Nick Hamm.

Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, and Simon Maxwell.

Produced by Ian Flooks, Mark Huffam, and Piers Tempest.

Cinematography, Kieran McGuigan.

Editing, Bill Sneddon.

Original Music, Joe Echo and Stephen Warbeck.

Running time: 113 minutes.