“Featuring the music of Blondie” is how this aspiring “feelgood film of the summer” announces itself, though it’s not obvious why the band would license virtually all their major earworms to this peppy but entirely formulaic comedy-drama. Clearly, the producers are looking to rival the Mamma Mia! effect – though Off the Rails is not a true musical, with the characters themselves only occasionally breaking out a bit of Blondie on a limited basis as they embark on their Euro rail trip. But the net effect of Debbie Harry popping up at 10-second intervals on the soundtrack to top up levels of ironic sass is to highlight how that quality is in generally short supply in the script.
Dreaming is the ditty fiftysomething pals Liz (Sally Phillips), Kate (Jenny Seagrove) and Cassie (Kelly Preston, in her final role) find themselves singing along to at the funeral of their friend Anna. Outside the church, her mother (a cameoing Judi Dench, manfully shovelling up a dreadfully written eulogy) gives them Anna’s bequest: Interrail tickets to reprise a trip the group made in their 20s, with a plus one for her teenage daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips). They have a five-day deadline to get down to Mallorca to catch “God’s disco ball”, a twice-yearly occurrence when the sun shines through a cathedral’s stained-glass window – which they missed last time.
Cheerfully gruesome menopause chat, fallings-off the wagon, romantic dalliances with buskers and Italian mayors (Franco Nero, the original Django) abound; Off the Rails mostly stays firmly on the expected rails. As someone says: “Who ordered a midlife crisis?” It’s crammed in, the film doing to European geography what Hollywood often does to London: one second they’re in Girona, the next in rural Italy. But director Jules Williamson doesn’t ground the hoo-hah in strong enough character work to make the comedy piquant. Beyond a late-breaking adultery spat, there’s little sense of their shared past, especially what Anna’s relationship with them and her daughter was. In truth, Maddie is relegated to a sidekick, while the other three leads pedal hard to get often flat material moving – too hard in Phillips’ case, whose sometimes mugging performance is in increasingly arbitrary sync with her supposed control-freak doctor character. The presiding spirit of Blondie, though, is there to smooth things over. One way or another, the film is going for the feelgood jugular.