Johnny Depp as Donald Trump – almost as funny as the real thing

Review: ‘The Art of the Deal: The Movie’, ‘Fortune’s Wheel’, ‘The Big Fat Quiz of Everything’

Johnny Depp as Donald Trump in The Art of the  Deal – The Movie: almost as funny as the real thing

Johnny Depp as Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal – The Movie: almost as funny as the real thing

 

It’s hard to compete with the power, drama, emotion and scandal coming to us live from the Olympics, which continues to dominate schedules until this weekend’s closing ceremony, on Sunday. But if watching the world’s sporting elite in action is giving you fatigue, there are other options before the autumn arrivals begin.

There’s comedy gold in Funny or Die’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (Netflix), which seems to have slipped under the radar. Maybe it was eclipsed by Netflix’s series Stranger Things or the Baz Luhrmann-directed The Get Down, or perhaps it’s because the making of the 50-minute mockumentary was top secret from the beginning.

After Donald Trump won the Republican Party primary in New Hampshire, back in February, the Funny or Die team – set up by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy – got Johnny Depp on board to play the capitalism king himself.

To say Depp isn’t having a good year personally or professionally is an understatement, but he’s got Trump down to a T. The movie is based on Trump’s real boastful business bible, The Art of the Deal, which he “wrote” in 1987 and, as he has never let anyone forget, was a bestseller. The text provides Trump “truth bullets” aplenty, including teachings such as “Use your leverage”, “Maximise your options”, “Fight back” and, let’s not forget, “Have fun”.

Written by the former Onion editor Joe Randazzo, the jokes come faster than Trump’s stylist with the hairspray. Our greedy antihero is obsessed with the Taj Mahal, “the classiest thing ever built by a Muslim”; he describes his steak as “the finest meat since Kelly McGillis from Top Gun”; and he imagines his evil foes – the New York City zoning board – as a hooded occult gang.

The cast incudes the actual Hollywood nice guy Ron Howard, who introduces the made-for-TV movie as a rediscovered relic from the vaults. The innocent intern from 30 Rock, Jack McBrayer, plays Trump’s put-upon architect (whom Trump forces to make Nazi salutes), Stephen Merchant is the “stupid” Baron Hilton, Alfred Molina is Trump’s obsequious Jewish lawyer and Michaela Watkins has great fun as a seriously shoulder-padded Ivana (constantly shushed by Donald).

The Art of the Deal feels like an elongated Saturday Night Live sketch – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler set the bar for US political parodies with their Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton impersonations – but, in fairness to the Funny or Die team, the fun never flags, and, as Trump, Depp has the edge on Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond.

And it’s all so fantastically 1980s. The Footloose singer Kenny Loggins wrote the theme tune, there’s a Run DMC-style “lawsuit rap” by Donald, featuring The Fat Boys, and a cameo from Back to the Future’s Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and cat-eating alien Alf. The only thing that takes the air out of Funny or Die’s tyres is that Donald Trump may be beyond parody. It’s a case of truth being funnier than fiction.

The cautionary tale of the Irish lion tamer Bill Stephens is told in the hour-long documentary Fortune’s Wheel (Monday, RTÉ One). The story begins in Fairview, in Dublin. One of Stephens’s lionesses escapes, causing mayhem in the neighbourhood before it is eventually shot. This grabbed headlines at the time, but the problem with this toothless telling is that, unlike the lioness on the loose, it lacks pace and intent.

The programme’s Dublin-born director and producer, Joe Lee, relies on numerous locals to narrate Stephens’s story, and they do so with charm and enthusiasm, but with so many talking heads the documentary soon feels stagnant.

Twenty-three minutes in, we finally get to the subject: Capt Bill Stephens himself. Stephens certainly lived a life less ordinary, keeping snakes, lions and monkeys. We learn that he was desperate to make it in the United States, and there’s added interest with the love story between him and his wife, Mai.

With no moving footage of Stephens or his daring circus act, Lee, a graduate of the National College of Art and Design, has to rely on newspaper cuttings and old photographs. He’s clearly taken with his subject, but the first- and second-hand testimony he has taken great care to record needs ruthless editing. The film desperately needs music, animation, something, anything, to make it move.

Imagery and information are repeated – we hear more than once that Stephens was musical and considered a bit of a looker, that his wife was “dark”, that his family didn’t care for her, that he wanted to go to the US – yet we discover precious little about what drove Stephens to his curious career. And the most interesting question of how he trained lions to let him stick his head in their mouths is neglected completely. Even in the penultimate chapter, where Stephens’s fate is revealed, there is no drama, no tension. It ends on a miaow rather than a roar.

Lee does transport us back to 1950s Dublin, and the piece has a lovely nostalgic feel, but in the end there’s far too much tell and not nearly enough show.

There is far more fun of the fair in Channel 4’s The Big Fat Quiz of Everything (Monday), which is hosted by Jimmy sorry-about-all-the-offshore-accounts Carr.

As with previous incarnations, the producers have stuck with the same format. Covering sport, science, music (list three of the things that Alanis Morissette mistakenly thinks are ironic in her 1990s hit of the same name), words and language (what are the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities?) and film (name one rule of Fight Club other than that you don’t talk about Fight Club), there’s plenty of actual quizzing to satisfy the serious-minded.

Pub-quiz-style questions are interspersed with the brilliant “say what you see” round, Jon Snow’s hilarious faux news reports, primary-school re-enactments of historical events, and celebrity questions (asked by celebs, not about them).

Yet The Big Fat Quiz is only ever as good as its teams. (Noel Fielding and Richard Ayoade were among the all-time best.) For this episode we’ve got the permanently panda-eyed Claudia Winkleman playing alongside the boffin David Mitchell; the mischievous Mel Giedroyc, of Bake Off fame, teamed with the American comic Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords); and the avuncular pairing of Bob Mortimer (who gets better with age) and Jonathan Ross.

Before long the quiz descends into a typical Christmas family-board-game scenario, with lots of cheating, cogging and childish bickering. A totally topical trivial pursuit, The Big Fat Quiz of Everything is naughty and nerdy and 99 per cent guaranteed to cause arguments in your house if you play along.

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