Trends come and go in comedy. WandaVision delightfully paid homage to the various sit-com styles of the past 40 years, but you don’t have to hunt that far back in time to find a clutch of comedy movies with what can charitably be called different takes on what constituted the format or subject of a joke. Or you could also tune in to The Pentaverate.
Remember that thing where a lead comic actor took on a gaggle of simultaneous roles whilst plastered up under a variety of different outfits and make up? If Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor II achieved anything it was to drive nails into the lid of that particular coffin. But wait, here is Mike Myers with a clawhammer and crowbar.
And he’s intent on prising open the lid, dragging the corpse out, and slapping some silly wigs on the gnarled body.
Based on the premise that a secret society of five men have been working in the shadows since 1347 to influence the world towards better and greater things, The Pentaverate uses this premise to string together a loose plot of conspiracy, gags about (sorry, aboot) Canada, and the aforementioned Myers donning more outfits than an overworked supermodel.
The Pentaverate is silly in the same way that silly string sprayed directly into the eyes feels silly. Charitably you could draw a comparison with shows like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace as ran through an Austin Powers sieve.
But while Darkplace poked fun with a pitch perfect swipe at low budget horror productions (as crossed with self-referential sending up of self-important horror writers), The Pentaverate takes conspiracy-based plotting and drops a disparate bag of rather tired comedy into the mix in the hope that you’ll do your own leg work to connect the dots.
Myers plays so many roles that it’s best to assume that anyone you see on screen is him, barring a few obvious exceptions. The amount of characters leads to a dearth of quality, as almost all are pitched as snapshot quickfire jokes.
You have the Australian media mogul; the Russian Rasputin-a-like; the right wing swivel-eyed YouTubing nutjob; and the British toff named ‘Lord Lordington’ to name but a few.
Despite the merry stroll through Myers’ accents and character work, none of these personas can summon anything like a laugh between them.
The Pentaverate Official Trailer
Is The Pentaverate Worth Watching?
Stitching the plot together is Myers as cuddly Canadian journalist, Ken Scarborough. His old-fashioned love of highlighting the low-key local stories no longer sells, so to save his career he goes chasing a big scoop on The Pentaverate.
To be fair, Scarborough’s good-natured foil is generally a warm presence on screen as he bumbles about through increasingly daft scenarios. Some of these land nicely, such as an increasingly aggressive game of pool where the OTT nature of Americans swearing is frequently remarked upon, even if the resultant gag where it gets cut out is pure school playground fare.
And that’s it. Despite great turns from Jeremy Irons as a self-aware narrator (“Don’t reach for the skip title button! You have to pay attention!”) and Rob Lowe as pre-recorded celebrity onboarding host, Myers drags through the same gutter jokes that he’s been doing for 30 years.
Austin Powers silhouetted inside a tent so it looks like stuff is being extracted from his body? Yeah, go for it. Scarborough’s road trip to Big Dick’s Halfway Inn? I guess.
A sequence where for ‘reasons’ his foreskin must be pulled before he can enter a building? Or warnings about buttocks and ‘the no-no hole’? This feels like Myers trying to staple his oeuvre into a Netflix model and struggling to come up with anything he hasn’t done better in the past.
Some other cameos come and go although no one really is given the opportunity to deliver their best work. Keegan-Michael Key crazy eyes his way around for a bit, Ken Jeong delivers his usual schtick, and Lydia West (It’s A Sin) as Scarborough’s road trip buddy is wasted.
In a world full of strange and worrying times, some may find comfort in The Pentaverate doggedly refusing to attempt anything new.
There is nothing wrong with inoffensive yet childish gags. But when very few jokes surprise enough to actually get a laugh, what you are left with is six episodes where you could more or less mouth the punchlines yourself.
I’m too tired to do that, Mike. Conspiracies in The Pentaverate are about as accurate as real life ones: actually rather dull once exposed.
Words by Mike Record