Multicultural comedy boosted by on-screen chemistry of Aakeel and Carroll
Film review: Eaten By Lions (12A): 6/10
Half-brothers embark on a haphazard road trip to the bright lights of Blackpool in director Jason Wingard's bittersweet and multicultural buddy comedy.
Co-written by David Isaac, Eaten By Lions purrs gently for 95 minutes with a couple of uproarious interludes that play to the strengths of Britain's Got Talent finalist Jack Carroll, who pokes fun at his cerebral palsy in his stand-up routines.
He delivers some cracking one-liners in his feature film debut, boasting about his powers of seduction to co-star and foil Antonio Aakeel - 'I'm like George Clooney in a frame' - who maintains his poker face as Carroll delivers risque material about children's homes with precision timing.
The young leads are surrounded by an ensemble cast of homegrown talent including character comedian Tom Binns as a bogus fortune teller, whose hilarious predictions linger in the same realms of ridiculousness as his spoof spirit medium, Ian D Montfort.
Various facets of the Lancashire coast provide picture postcard backdrops to the characters' emotional turmoil including the arresting image of two people kissing as fireworks explode over the criss-crossing red arches of the pleasure beach's Big One steel rollercoaster.
Thankfully, Wingard's picture is a gentler ride.
Omar (Aakeel) and Pete (Carroll) are orphaned at a young age when their parents' romantic hot air balloon getaway crash-lands in the lion enclosure of a safari park.
The boys' grandmother (Stephanie Fayerman) takes them in and encourages Omar and Pete to look out for each other.
When she eventually passes, the half-siblings are condemned to the questionable care of their acid-tongued aunt Ellen (Vicki Pepperdine) and her henpecked husband Ken (Kevin Eldon).
They propose adopting Pete but not Omar because, in Ellen's words, 'You're not our side.'.
Desperate to find a place he belongs, Omar ventures to the coast to track down his biological father, with Pete in tow.
En route, the lads encounter seaside worker Amy (Sarah Hoare) and her uncle (Johnny Vegas), who runs the Castle Del Ray bed and breakfast.
Omar's quest for an identity leads to a bumbling man child called Irfan (Asim Chaudhry), who runs the first Pakistani and Indian gift shop in Blackpool.
Irfan offers a feeble explanation about the one-night stand that led to his son's birth - 'I hate contraception. I can't even spell the word.' - but Omar craves acceptance and love, not pitiful excuses.
Eaten By Lions is threaded with the same earthy humour as East Is East, albeit with fewer belly laughs and a narrower focus on the power dynamics within Irfan's dysfunctional family.
A harebrained subplot involving Irfan's shy sister Parveen (Natalie Davies) feels undernourished as it strives to shatter cultural stereotypes.
The script periodically stumbles, but winning on-screen chemistry between Aakeel and Carroll cajoles Wingard's picture back to its feet.