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CIRCUS(director: Rob Walker; screenwriter: David Logan; cinematographer: Ben Seresin; editor: Oral Norrie Ottey; music: Simon Boswell; cast: John Hannah (Leo), Famke Janssen (Lily), Eddie Izzard (Troy), Neil Stuke (Roscoe), Amanda Donohoe (Gloria), Peter Stormare (Julius), Fred Ward (Elmo), Brian Conley (Bruno), Tiny Lister (Moose), Ian Burfield (Caspar); Runtime: 95; Columbia TriStar; 2000-UK/US)
“Another Tarantino wannabe film that falls flat on its face artistically.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another Tarantino wannabe film that falls flat on its face artistically and as far as offering good entertainment value. This British crime caper, most like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, is about East End London gangsters who are up to no good in an unnecessarily convoluted plot about blackmail, double-crosses, illegal money transfers, and many other clichéd devices stolen from countless gangster films. The characters are all annoying, too clever for their own good, and the storyline is filled with too many quirky incidents for it to be anything but a mess. There are also no characters that you could even mildly identify with, it’s just a matter of who is the less annoying.

John Hannah, the Scottish actor, stars as a very bright gambler who owes money to a certifiable psychopath (Eddie Izzard). Izzard chews the scenery and is shown in odd ways threatening the Hannah character, who is named Leo. Izzard pushes him around in the nude only section of the Brighton Beach water, at other times he tosses knives at him, stomps on his body, and does sundry other things to show that he means business about getting his money. Izzard even has a dog run on the treadmill, which I guess was supposed to be taken as a cute sight gag. To pay him back Leo becomes a hit man for a client with facial tics named Julius, who wants his wife Gloria dead. After Leo strangles her he’s blackmailed by Julius, who got it all on videotape and then tells him that wasn’t his wife. It also turns out that she’s the girlfriend of a crazed black giant named Moose, who is now rumbling after him. That’s the simple part of the plot before it becomes a question if anyone can be trusted, as it starts getting really twisted from here on. You see it turns out Julius is an embezzling accountant for a lowlife crime boss, who forces him to pay back the money through a swindle involving the sale of his shipping company and the transfer of millions to his account in the tax free Cayman Islands. But the plot is so unbelievable, that it’s not worth the effort to give it a second thought. The only thing this film got right was its title, there were so many clown acts going on in this three-ring circus that it should have just brought out a trapeze artist and a lion tamer and become a straight circus show instead of a gangster movie.

Director Rob Walker’s film lacked conviction, a feel for either comedy or suspense, and worst of all it was a real downer. Its cynical nature and its nastiness was used only for shock without having any other redeeming value, as it left a cold feeling on the screen. It lacked everything a good crime story should have, and instead relied on every character being quirky and as a result unbelievable; they all looked like they were cut from the same crazy cookie-cutter mold.

Famke Janssen was ineffective as the femme fatale who is known for her past double-crosses; she’s married to Hannah and on the sly is seeing the sadistic big-time crime boss Brian Conley. The boss tried to be both menacing and funny, but succeeded in only being unimportant and a carbon copy characterization lifted from the genre of many a badly made East End gangster film. The married couple, in need of money, are planning to “do a Ernest Hemingway- type thing” in Cuba just as soon as Leo does one last job. The big question for them becomes, what is his last job!

The film looked like it was an ad for Advil about a bunch of losers prone to violence and with money problems, who are on a bad holiday in Brighton Beach and badly needed a few aspirins. If you want to see a gritty film noir with Britain’s Brighton Beach as the setting, I suggest you rent the 1947 video Brighton Rock starring Richard Attenborough and see how a low-life gangster film is engagingly made.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”