Friday, January 29, 2016

Layer Cake

2/4

Starring: Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, George Harris, Tamer Hassan, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Cranham, Michael Gambon, Jamie Forman, Sally Hawkins, Marcel Iures, Sienna Miller, Ben Whishaw

Rated R for Strong Brutal Violence, Sexuality, Nudity, Pervasive Language and Drug Use

The problem with "Layer Cake" is easy to identify: there's too much plot for a 105-minute movie. There were as many twists and turns in "Black Book," and that took 2.5 hours to tell.  There's even less character development, and the actors, while charismatic and giving strong performances across the board, are forced to rely on their screen presence and ability to utter dialogue without stumbling over it.  Everyone gives it a game try, but it's all for naught.  The story makes less and less sense as it goes on and I didn't care one way or the other about any of the characters.

"Layer Cake's" unnamed protagonist (Craig) is a cocaine dealer living in London.  He lives by a few simple rules to stay out of trouble, and while he's a big success, he wants to get out while he's still ahead.  With three of his mates, he gets roped into two final jobs by his boss, Jimmy Price (Cranham): find the coked up daughter of his old friend Eddie Temple (Gambon) and arrange a sale of one million tablets of ecstasy.  Needless to say, this is not as easy as it sounds.

After nearly a decade of producing movies, such as Guy Ritchie's one-two punch of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," Matthew Vaughn tried his hand at directing.  Judging from its pedigree (the cast is essentially a who's who of British character actors) and some of Vaughn's future works "Stardust" and "Kick-Ass," this should have been great fun.  Alas, it's not.  It's a bit of a mess, and the tone feels too stuffy and dry for something this pulpy.

Daniel Craig is in fine form as the unnamed dealer.  He plays the character with the same confidence and dry wit that makes him such an appealing James Bond.  Actually, it was this role that put him on producer Barbara Broccoli's radar to take over the legendary role from Pierce Brosnan.  He is surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast.  All do their jobs well, but so few of them are given anything to work with.  Only Jamie Forman, Michael Gambon and Marcel Iures stick out because Foreman plays a nutcase and it's impossible for Gambon or Iures to fade into the background.  But while Gambon has a sizable role and relishes every minute of it, Iures is on screen for all of 60 seconds in a thankless role (again).

"Stardust" and especially "Kick-Ass" boasted an irreverent sense of humor and a comically warped tone.  Sadly, that's missing here.  Aside from a few pithy comments by Craig's character and a few grisly twists, the film is played mostly straight.  That's a shame, because crime thrillers like this have been done to death, and Vaughn's "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" direction of his future films is what set them apart.

Unless you're hard up for British crime thrillers, I'd give this one a pass.  If you are, I recommend watching "Sexy Beast" with Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone instead.  It's a much better way to spend 90 minutes.

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