Saturday, 16 May 2015

Going Off Big Time (2000)

The improbable success of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels both critically and commercially (it's still a success and appeal which escapes me) meant that a lot of what followed from the British film industry was  nothing but second-rate mockney gangster movies.  It's something I've discussed previously with my review for Circus a prime copycat that came hot on the heels of Ritchie's breakthrough movie.

But it would be unfair to lump all the gangland films that followed together as, on some occasions, they did try to do something different.

Going Off Big Time is just one of those movies that boasts a modicum of distinction and originality and has over the years become something of a cult favourite round these neck of the woods. That's because it's set in Liverpool and not, like all the other copycats, London, and is steeped in authentic Scouse criminality - indeed, writer and star Neil Fitzmaurice gathered together a wealth of real anecdotes he had heard around the pubs of the city to form the backbone of his script. 

Another bonus to Fitzmaurice's writing is that he swerves the Ritchie formula and depicts a crime film that owes more of a debt to the golden era of 1930s hardboiled Hollywood crime and a Runyonesque charm. As is to be expected from a performer who has become a mainstay of TV comedy (Phoenix Nights, Peep Show and Mount Pleasant to name but a few) Fitzmaurice's writing focuses primarily on humour rather than gritty, violent drama and there's a suitably reflective, almost melancholic air from director Jim Doyle that fits the central character's memories.

Unfortunately, Fitzmaurice does perhaps paint himself into a corner with his narrative which, relying so firmly on both the flashbacks and those real life anecdotes he is dramatising, becomes a touch too episodic to be truly satisfying as a feature - and of course some vignettes work better than others. Bernard Hill is a real touch of class as the wise old lag Murray who takes Fitzmaurice's Mark under his wing during his first prison stretch (and look out for Peter Kay in these scenes as the stuttering con Flipper) but when the action moves away from within those prison walls the film misses Hill's presence greatly, especially as some of the characters who eventually inhabit the screen are lightly sketched or variably formed. Still, they're wise enough to stagger the bigger names through the duration - perhaps hoping to distract audiences from those less than capable or convincing around them - with old school stand up comedian Stan Boardman arriving after Hill's exit to play a gangster who was ''more Stringfella than Goodfella'' and the great Del Henney of Straw Dogs fame further down the line as the city's dangerous criminal kingpin.

Ultimately whilst the episodic format, the mix of chucklesome capers  and gangland drama don't truly satisfy, Going Off Big Time is surprisingly enjoyable enough and it's not difficult to see why it has become a minor cult fave locally.

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