DEAD MAN'S CARDS
Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
Washed-up former middleweight boxer Tom takes a job as bouncer at a seedy Liverpool bar, where he gets to crack the skulls of the local riff-raff.
Is it good movie?
I do enjoy a good gritty flick from the U.K., and DEAD MANíS CARDS has got a little bit of fighting spirit in it. Unfortunately, itís not enough. The movie never really develops a clear focus and for the most part is slow and uneventful. We know the characters are tough guys with brass balls (and this appeals to lots of people), but are they interesting or worth caring about? Thereís too much posturing, not enough plot.
A glaring problem with DEAD MANíS CARDS is that we the audience donít really get to know our lead character. Tom floats through the movie as an enigma, and partly due to James McMartinís stiff performance, he is difficult to relate to and fatally under-developed for a protagonist. You wonít feel much sympathy for him, and you wonít feel like rooting for him either. On the other hand, Paul Barber steals the movie as Paul, the no-nonsense bloke that Tom joins as hired muscle at the bar. North American audiences will best remember this guy from THE FULL MONTY, and he seems to be the only actor in the movie giving a natural, reflexive, engaging performance. Barber makes a wonderful bad-ass and is absolutely the strongest presence in the film. Tom Bell plays Cowboy Billy, who owns the (western-themed) dive at the centre of the plot, and Lisa Parry a bartender who has an eye for Tom. If these and other supporting players donít register, itís because they donít have much to work with, thanks to a patchy script by McMartin and Marquand.
The director, James Marquand (son of Richard, director of RETURN OF THE JEDI), does a good job of capturing the grunge and gloom of a less-than-hospitable area of Liverpool. What Marquand fails to do is invest DEAD MANíS CARDS with any kind of effective pacing or forward momentum. After drifting around for too long with Tomís issues, a real conflict finally begins to develop toward the end when a rival from down the street (Mark Russell) becomes intent on taking over their bar. But even this doesnít add up to much in the way of compelling drama or action.
The best stuff in DEAD MANíS CARDS happens when the movie gets physical (there are some great little scraps), and whenever Barber is on the screen. On the whole, however, itís a bit of a slog.
Video / Audio
DEAD MANíS CARDS offers a few small pleasures, but the story goes nowhere and the main character is a blank slate. These flaws prove to be fatal, obscuring the capable work of director Marquand and the charismatic Barber. Unless youíre a fan of this type of LOCK, STOCK entry, I wouldnít rush out to see it.