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Boxer's Rebellion

[whitespace] TwentyFourSeven
Glove at First Sight: Darcy (Bob Hoskins) trains boxing hopeful Tim (Danny Nussbaum) in Shane Meadows' 'TwentyFourSeven.'

'TwentyFourSeven' fight film doesn't have a fighting chance

By Richard von Busack

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE cinematography in Shane Meadows' debut film, TwentyFourSeven, is appropriate for its subject: an unnamed, half-abandoned city in England's Midlands. Meadows grew up in Nottingham, where he shot the film; is it possible that the trash-littered woods where these aimless kids hang out is actually Sherwood Forest? TwentyFourSeven captures a housing project where time stands still. One character puts it well when he observes that "housing project" is a contradiction in terms, like "fresh frozen." Nothing's projected there. The unemployed people have "been living the same day all of their lives."

The photography captures a sunless landscape in which idleness is interrupted only by the threat of violence. In the opening, a jogger and his dog find a mortally ill wino in a burnt-out boxcar on a railroad siding. He's Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins)--or what's left of him--filthy, mute with illness, his broad forehead laced with blood. In flashback, we learn how Darcy tried to organize an amateur boxing club to keep the local teens out of trouble.

The aspiring young boxers include Tim (Danny Nussbaum), who is in constant, vicious combat with his father; Tonka (James Corden), the son of the only prosperous man in town and the film's fat-boy joke; and Benny (Johann Myers), a handsome West Indian. Darcy trains the lot, takes them on a camping vacation in Wales and readies them for a bout with their rivals from Staffordshire. A Rocky-style triumph is suggested, thanks to numerous references to Stallone's boxing fable, but the story takes a bitter turn for the worse.

Hoskins, in one of the working-class Brit parts he seems to have left behind since The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa, functions as the solid bones of this story. In a sometimes unlikely narrative, he never has an unlikely moment. If only the writing were as powerful as the atmosphere. Meadows takes no chances with a well-worn plot--one that's served films from Hoosiers to The Mighty Ducks--but even so, he has overreached himself. The nearly dozen young boxers aren't differentiated; they all have one quirk each, like the Seven Dwarfs (and they all show up together in a pack, like the dwarfs, for the finale). The storytelling wanders, cutting almost randomly to the subplots. The downbeat ending, with the realism that the rest of the story lacks, feels like a cheat. As in young-adult movies, the parents of the youths are either Gorgons or invisible men. (There's one exception: Annette Badland, who stole Hollow Reed in her small part as a lawyer, is authentic as a battered mom.) TwentyFourSeven's visual power is diluted with obviousness and too much sentiment; while it's a snapshot of desperation in the "other England," that snapshot looks posed.

TwentyFourSeven (R; 96 min.), directed by Shane Meadows, written by Paul Fraser and Meadows, photographed by Ashley Rowe and starring Bob Hoskins and Danny Nussbaum.

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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