June 10, 2005

Layer Cake

Directed by Matthew Vaughn Starring Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney and Michael Gambon

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

The cockney gangster genre hasn't offered anything truly delicious since Get Carter and The Long Good Friday came out of the oven more than two decades ago. American offering Reservoir Dogs has cultivated a new following for these flicks in England, inspiring filmmakers to shove more down moviegoers' cakeholes. Flash-in-the-pan successes by Guy Ritchie and Paul McGuigan have only shifted this trend into overdrive. Most of these efforts have been pure fluff, made with colourful, flashy and cool ingredients but nonetheless tasting half-baked and stale. Ritchie's producer Matthew Vaughn makes his directorial debut with Layer Cake, another slice of the same variety. Still, it was apparently impressive enough to land Vaughn in the director's chair of X-Men 3 even though he later balked.

Daniel Craig of Road to Perdition stars as a seemingly alright drug supplier, stuck between mouthy bosses and dodgy dealers within the strata of London's criminal underworld that spawn the film's metaphoric title. The fact that he remains nameless throughout should serve as a giveaway to the other knackered clich├ęs that follow. In a surrealist, TV-commercial-like prologue, he walks past a wall of designer drugs with designer perfume packaging as they digitally morph into over-the-counter stuff on a pharmacy aisle. His voiceover monologue rationalizes his illicit way of life with a bromide about supply and demand: "I'm not a gangster. I'm a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine. I deal only in kilos." Of course, would there be a film if he weren't looking to get out after one last score? And as you'd expect, it's abso-bloody-lutely all going Pete Tong.

J.J. Connolly's novel and screen adaptation are all over the shop, scrounging stock plots of wheeling, dealing and double-crossing from other films along with pseudo-Tarantino trivial flashbacks that are neither amusing nor helpful in advancing the story. Not only is Connolly's naff writing way past its expiration date, Vaughn's direction is similarily moldy. A montage of Craig's protagonist tripping on booze and pills set to Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" fails miserably at imitating that brilliant pairing of the overdose of Mark Renton with Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" in Trainspotting. The cast of Layer Cake - which boasts Colm Meaney, Michael Gambon and Jason Flemyng - collectively phones in the performances. But with the screen presence of a young Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood, Craig spreads on the icing and makes the film easy to swallow.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.