Photo by Daniel Smith

Yobs and Mobsters

Oy, guv’nor, in case you ’adn’t ’eard, ’ere’s some’n new on at the flicks, directed by the bloke who made Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Not Guy Ritchie — ’e didn’t ’ave fuck all to do wit this one — but this other bloke called Matthew Vaughn, who was Ritchie’s producer, and now ’e’s decided to give directing a bash. It’s about this grafter — we don’t never find out ’is name — who works for this bigtime boss called Jimmy Price. This no-name bloke is the dog’s bollocks at what ’e does — don’t make no row, don’t even carry a piece — and ’e knows nuffin’ good lasts forever, so ’e’s lookin’ to retire ’fore somebody comes ’round and beats seven shades of shit out of ’im, or worse. But — and stop me if you’ve ’eard this one before, guv — Mr. No-Name’s got one more assignment from ol’ Jimmy before ’e’s through and, wouldn’t ya know, the whole plan goes tits-up.

The movie is called Layer Cake, and, like just about every British crime picture of the last decade, it’s stacked with gentlemen gangsters in Saville Row suits, blockheaded yobs with names like Kinky, Tiptoes and the Duke, and a disposable caper scenario (here involving a missing girl and a truckload of high-potency Ecstasy tablets) equal parts rowdy laddishness and bone-crushing bloodshed. Beyond that, there’s little to say, except to note that the cult of Ritchie has become about as tedious as the cult of Tarantino. Both have led to an equal number of badly imitative films, though the influence of Ritchie is the more puzzling in that his own movies aren’t that original (or that good) to begin with. In Layer Cake, the manifold plot machinations are so tedious, their ultimate revelations so pat, they’re hardly worth the effort it takes to keep up with them. And with one major exception, the characters fail to stand out from the sleek, impersonal backgrounds that suggest Vaughn (just hired to direct the next X-Men sequel) may have thought he was filming a feature-length Lexus commercial. The exception is the film’s anonymous protagonist, embodied by Daniel Craig with flinty authority, but also with a subterranean vulnerability like tiny cracks forming on a frozen lake. He’s the only thing in Layer Cake that amounts to more than a collection of macho poses — and if he can’t quite save the movie, he does make it a good deal better than a poke in the eye.

LAYER CAKE | Directed by MATTHEW VAUGHN | Written by J.J. CONNOLLY | ADAM BOHLING, DAVID REID and VAUGHN | Released by Sony Pictures Classics | At selected theaters


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