Narcissistic wannabes, a plot to kill Bono and a last screen appearance by Pete Postlewaite make this a movie not to miss
Black comedy Killing Bono, about a pair of hapless Dublin rockers languishing in schoolmates U2’s shadow, is a must-see for anyone who has had a brush with fame.
For this writer, who came within an indie mop’s-breadth of drumming for Ash at a couple of gigs in the early 1990s, the movie has a certain resonance. But unlike Killing Bono’s deluded and increasingly desperate hero, I have never felt compelled to track down Tim Wheeler and wave a pistol at him.
Based on erstwhile Hot Press hack, Neil McCormick’s 2004 memoir, Killing Bono tells the sometimes suspiciously tall tale of how he and his guitarist brother, Ivan formed a band around the same time as U2, but managed to avoid fame and fortune through a combination of bad luck, bad decisions and bad songs, ultimately leading to a cack-handed assassination attempt.
The film boasts a screenplay co-penned by sitcom legends Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, returning to ground they trod so effectively in The Commitments adaptation.
Director Nick Hamm’s follow-up to the execrable Godsend (he also made the equally rum The Hole) is by some margin the Belfast-born filmmaker’s finest work to date. A lot of that is to do with the casting.
The Chronicles of Narnia heartthrob, Ben Barnes is a revelation as the haphazard McCormick, trading in his matinee idol looks for unkempt locks and an apelike gait. Barnes manages to keep the character just this side of sympathetic, no mean feat considering the mayhem and misery he leaves in his wake throughout the movie.
During the two-hour running time, Neil, together with Ivan – played by Misfits and Cherrybomb star, Robert Sheehan in another excellent performance – fight, fire band members, flirt with their gay landlord (a frail-looking Pete Postlethwaite in his final screen role), stand up girls, crash cars, hoodwink gangsters and screw their manager’s wife. It’s like an X-rated Dumb and Dumber with Dublin accents and an indie-rock soundtrack.
As Bono, Martin McCann pitches the U2 front man somewhere between slimeball and saint. Physically, McCann doesn’t fully convince – the wiry actor looks more like a young Alex Higgins – but he nails the voice, and captures the je ne sais quois that has led half the world to love the one-time Paul Hewson and half to loathe him.
Elsewhere, comedian Peter Serafinowicz, playing the McCormicks’ record label boss, chews the scenery in a note-perfect assault on media leeches (‘I don’t even like music,’ he splutters at one point).
U2’s music features occasionally, notably in the climactic showdown. Neil and Ivan’s wretched outfit, Shook Up, dominate the rest of the soundtrack. Their songs were written for the movie by the Grammy Award-nominated Joe Echo, alias Castledawson musician Ciaran Gribben, using the brothers’ original lyrics. They’re strong tunes, and Gribben’s involvement is one of several Northern Irish connections.
As well as being co-produced by Belfast-based Generator Entertainment, and co-starring the west Belfast-born McCann, much of the film was shot in the city. Location-spotters will have fun recognising the Empire Music Hall, Frames nightclub and various streets in and around Belfast Metropolitan College and on the 'Golden Mile'.
But Killing Bono is a movie that can play around the world, thanks to U2’s international fan base and the universal appeal of watching narcissistic wannabes mess up over and over again…
Check out CultureNorthernIreland What's On guide to find Killing Bono at a cinema near you