Back in the mid/late 90s I saw Ray Winstone in a TV drama called Our Boy and was utterly blown away by the barely restrained emotion and fury he brought to his role as a bereaved father who lost his child in a hit and run. If this was acting, I thought, what the hell have I been watching before now? I was in awe.
Fast forward just 15 years say and through some genuine career highs like Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, and Winstone is now an actor who simply phones it in time after time. Where did it all go wrong? Was it the adverts for bookmakers or was it when he started appearing as a Hollywood star's second fiddle (something he swore he'd never do and had no interest in) popping up just over the shoulder of the likes of Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson?
Then again, what do we expect from a man so crippled by type casting? All he's ever expected to do is be 'The Daddy' of all Cockneys. Hardly an exciting prospect or enough material to get your teeth into is it? In The Hot Potato, Winstone's role is slightly less the cartoonish 'do what, strike a light, pack it in will yer, yer avin a larf' mockney and more ingrained in vague reality, and a reality set in the late 60s to boot, but it is nonetheless another cockney chancer role. Also, does he now have it in his contract that he has to be partnered with a much younger actress as his wife or love interest? It was the ridiculously unbelievable notion of the gorgeous Hayley Atwell in The Sweeney, and in this it is former pop star, model and footballer's wife Louise Redknapp making her big screen debut, but little impact. Again, it's very unconvincing that a younger attractive woman would be sexually attracted to a bloated whale like him.
Winstone is paired in this throwback/homage to the 60s caper with Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston as his partner in crime, Danny, and his own daughter Lois Winstone as Danny's lively girlfriend Carole. Huston is nothing short of amazing in Boardwalk, but seems rather detached and uninspired in this, providing little more than a sketch of your typical likely lad cockney. Lois Winstone is quite capable in her role but one can't help but wonder if, nepotism aside, she'd have bagged it on her own merit.
In detailing the crisscrossing around Europe to find a buyer for a lump of Uranium ('The Hot Potato' of the title) that has fallen into the pair's lap, the film strives hard to emulate the films it was clearly inspired by, and is complete with the occasional Mancini or Barry-esque score (think Pink Panther and Ipcress File - indeed some snatches are definitely Ipcress, note for note) and excellent vintage clothing and design, but fails to deliver anything more than a passable B picture vibe from that time. It's less The Bank Job (a surprisingly satisfying early 70s set feature from Jason Statham, which actually required him to be a little more than Jason Statham) and more Flawless, the 60s diamond caper starring Michael Caine and Demi Moore that will hardly feature highly on either of their CV's. Indeed, the films also shares an actor, namely Derren Nesbitt and it's pleasing enough to see him still pulling the same old Germanic schtick he was doing way back in the 60s and 70s before bad publicity of his private life tarnished his career.
Ultimately The Hot Potato seems more interested in getting the look of the late 60s right (including characters referencing The Avengers and The Man From UNCLE) than it is in giving the material any sense of excitement, tension or reason for us to engage with it, which makes for a rather hollow experience for the viewer. It's not a bad film, it's just not a very interesting one.