The Jokers

At the Exeter Theatre

The Jokers tells about two young men who make off with the Crown Jewels just to show they can do it. The two are brothers: one is thirty-ish suave; the other, a modly dressed stripling. The Stripling has always taken the rap for exploits they've planned together. While his brother sat tight in London acting the model man, upholder of Elizabeth's England, the Stripling got expelled from Cambridge and Sandhurst. The story shows how The stripling and Mr. Suave prove they're brilliant, the less likely one proves he's even trickier, both wind up in jail. Tucked around the robbery are proper teas, not-so-proper behaviour after tea, some sightseeing, and a coming-out party distinguished by champagne showers and firecrackers. A modest farce.

The trouble with Michael Winner's movie is that, for an outrage, it's awfully well-bred. The brothers are trying to give the Establishment a kick. But they certainly don't aim for a vital part. And since they nestle in the Establishment themselves (they're aristocrats and they don't reject the security it gives them) you can't help feeling the odds are not two against the country. That destroys a basic premise of comedy: a sane clown or two--like the Marx Brothers--in a crazy world.

What also makes the picture rather staid is that the dastardly plan works perfectly. Equipment doesn't go on the blink, nobody misses connections, thievery's too easy. A little fumbling and a little suspense would have made the situation more of a laff-riot. Even punchlines are terribly understated. It's as though the writer-director didn't intend us to die laughing: that's not refined.

Still there are some jokes. Like when the older brother unveils the machine that will drill their way to the jewels and the younger brother inquires, "Where'd yew get it? Rent-a-Lazar?" Or when the older brother moves majestically around his kitchen ,wearing a crown and frying bacon. The next minute you expected to see him whipping up pancakes with the sceptre.

The brothers (Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed) are a lively contrast to each other, the pace is pleasant enough, the chippies nice. It's just that I was in the mood for something hysterical and loud and brutal--all I got was gentle mockery.