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[whitespace] Pain in Spain

The so-so 'Sexy Beast' poses as the ultimate in cool

By Richard von Busack

DIRECTOR JONATHAN GLAZER made a commercial for Guinness stout titled "Ultimate Wave," which was described by the London Times "as the most beautiful and powerful piece of film on our screens." Never saw it. However, on the grounds of Glazer's debut film, Sexy Beast, it can be said that he knows how to direct one hell of a beer commercial. The opening shot of Sexy Beast shows a plump, freckled cockney named Gal (Ray Winstone), reclining, dressed in yellow Speedos and greasy with lotion. Next to his lounge chair are a few empty beer bottles. A white-hot apron of concrete burns away beneath him. Tipsy from the heat, he's muttering about how marvelous his life in Spain is--and the ultimate horrendo-raunchy beach song swells up over his words: "Peaches" by the Stranglers.

Perhaps this wolfish tune about ocean-side tit-watching ("Oh shit! There comes another one!") proves the Stranglers are what Greil Marcus once called the band: "a loathsome sub-Doors quintet." However, the milieu--hot cement, yob writhing in ecstasy, bottles--isn't just a perfect illustration of a sordid pub-rock classic but also a great way to sell beer. The memory of the scene's sensual corruption refreshes the rest of the film. With a script like the one Louis Mellis and David Scinto have provided, Sexy Beast needs all the refreshment it can get.

Like a meteor, a boulder crashes into Gal's pool, heralding more misfortune to come. Gal, a retired gangster, is being hauled back into London for a burglary. For the delicate job of recruiting Gal, a blunt and half-insane leg breaker named Don (Ben Kingsley) has been dispatched. For two uncomfortable days and one night, Don badgers Gal to go to England and do the job; he does this with threats, curses and pleading--it's like watching a pair of kids fight over a TV remote control. Cut to London, where Gal turns up to carry out a clever if implausible heist and waits for the consequences.

Sexy Beast--by no means a sexy movie--has everything a gangster movie needs except brevity and a good villain. The film's clogged by Kingsley, spitting out profanity and getting into the face, working himself hoarse to prove that he's the baddest of the badasses. This seems to be Kingsley's bid for the high-paying foreign-accented villain roles in American action pictures. I don't think he'll succeed; seeing Kingsley's bald head, you don't think "fascist," you think "Gandhi." If ever a part cried out for a cheap, ugly toupee, this is it.

His disappearance doesn't come a moment too soon. As the crime boss--named Bass, like the ale--Ian McShane gives a much more impressive display of criminal malice. He's terrifically bent: dyed hair, the glassy eyes of a doll and the killer-robot bearing of Alain Delon in Le Samurai. McShane has half the time and makes twice the impression that Kingsley does. Sexy Beast evaporates so quickly, it's hard to judge whether the style overcomes the porousness of the plot. Taking in a lot of sun before seeing this minor thriller might make it go down smoother--so, inevitably, might a couple of beers.

Sexy Beast (R; 91 min.), directed by Jonathan Glazer, written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, photographed by Ivan Bird and starring Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley and Ian McShane, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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