"I'm a boxing promotah, meself. Firtee years, man and boy. 'Ardest game in the world." Sound familiar? If you'd said Paul Whitehouse's pub raconteur from The Fast Show, you'd be right. But if you'd offered up Billy "'Shiner"' Simpson (Michael Caine), you wouldn't be far off either.
Despite the fact that Caine developed Shiner with his producing partner Geoffrey Reeve, you can't help feeling that this attempt at King-Lear-with-gloves fails to offer the veteran thesp the KO he hoped for.
Caine wants Simpson to be a complex character with a burning sense of family loyalty at his core, but he just comes off feeling and sounding like every other clichéd cock-er-nee geeza. He's got the 'ired muscle, the flash car and all the gear, but nothing about the role is the real deal. We've seen his (stereo)type before.
And it doesn't help that the film itself is so bantamweight. Barely able to keep the plot punchy for the first two rounds, it goes down in the third like a ton of bricks. Crosses are doubled, people die, mistakes are made and Simpson is set on an inescapable cycle of blood and betrayal. But come the final, dying moments, you can't help thinking it's all a bit shallow and tired.
Not to mention unbelievable. Even though it's clear Simpson's more of a lovable rogue than a hardcore crim - - making him less of a danger in the eyes of the police - - the script pushes it too far by having an old, starstruck copper (Peter Wight) letting Billy walk all over him, much to the annoyance of his younger, female colleague (Nicola Walker).
It's not Caine's fault - - he's perfectly suited to the role, and he's surrounded himself with some solid Brit talent. Yet none of them find much quality material to nibble at in the screenplay, with several forced to chew the scenery in the hopes of a balanced acting diet.
This one should have stayed in training a while longer. Hackneyed dialogue and predictable events seriously undercut some half-decent performances. Caine stands out, but the movie finally gut-punches even him to the canvas in the overly violent final act.
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