The story of Paul Potts, the opera singer and first winner of "Britain's Got Talent," gets a big screen telling not half as rousing as the actual YouTube video of him knocking Simon Cowell on his butt.
A winning performance from James Corden can't help "One Chance" overcome the conventionality of its script and flat direction from David Frankel ("Marley & Me").
The movie takes a few facts from Potts's actual life (Yes, he worked in a cell phone store) and makes some stuff up (No, he didn't' perform-and choke-in front of Luciano Pavarotti). Ultimately, it feels like a thousand movies before it. Heck, I'd rather see the story of Susan Boyle if I'm going to sit through a "Britain's Got Talent" film (She appeared two seasons after Potts).
Corden, soon to take over the host's chair from Craig Ferguson on "The Late Late Show" and costar of the upcoming "Into the Woods," puts forth a semi-entertaining performance as Potts. The Potts story plays a little bit like the plot of the classic "Breaking Away" minus the bicycles and Jackie Earle Haley. Potts is stuck in a small town, obsessed with the Italians (in this case, Pavarotti), and driving his blue-collar dad (Colm Meaney) crazy.
The recordings used for the lip-synching scenes don't match the settings sonically. For example, when Potts sings dressed up like a clown in a crowded bar, the recording Corden mouths to sounds like somebody captured it on a cheap cassette player in somebody's backyard. It's awkward at best.
The most enjoyable scenes in the movie involve the courtship between Potts and his long distance girlfriend, and eventual wife, Julz (Alexandra Roach). Potts and Roach have fun screen chemistry, even when the story strains through rote rom-com motions. As made-up as it seems, the film's account of the two meeting for the first time at a railway station is actually true.
Frankel stages the typical scenes one would expect in a film like this. Father and son arguing at the breakfast table, father telling his son he needs to work a real job, etc. There's also a subplot involving the town bully that gets the usual, glossed over movie treatment. If Potts actually took beatings like Corden does in this movie, it's serious, sad stuff, yet Frankel plays it for laughs.
"Once Chance" is terribly lazy filmmaking. At one point, Corden is simply inserted into the actual "Britain's Got Talent" stock footage of Potts doing his now infamous audition. The footage cuts from Corden mouthing the music to actual footage of Simon Cowell with a pen in his mouth. Again, to get the full power of this moment in Potts's life, just go on YouTube and check him out. He really is quite astonishing.
Two-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters puts in a few enjoyable scenes as Potts's mom, portraying her as the supportive half of the parental unit. Meaney isn't necessarily bad in the film; he just isn't given a chance to distinguish himself thanks to the material. As the manager of the cell phone store where Potts works, Mackenzie Crook scores some decent laughs in his few scenes.
Corden and Roach are good enough together to make one wish for a future pairing in a better movie. Corden certainly has a big year ahead of him, with his target date for taking over "The Late Late Show" on March 9th.
As for Potts, his story seems more deserving of a nice documentary rather than a movie with some dude lip-synching. He's an extraordinary guy with an extraordinary voice, but his biography simply hasn't made for a great movie, or even a good one.