There Will Be Blood, Come Hell or High Water.
Writer/director Scott Wiper appears to be wanting to give his latest movie “The Big Ugly” a Quentin Tarantino, Coen Brothers, and Guy Ritchie vibe.
It has talented leads like Vinnie Jones, Malcolm McDowell, and Ron Perlman, upbeat music, tough dialogue, and choices. But is it enough to make it a gripping masterpiece? Close but no cigar, because the narrative is more of the same and provides its characters with rather dull material. It works half the time, while the other half tends to be standard.
We meet Jones as Neelyn, the humiliating enforcer for the London mobster Harris (McDowell), both of whom arrive in West Virginia to invest in oil baron Preston Lawford’s (Perlman) business. The next day, just as the boss goes back across the pond, the muscle stays to find out his girlfriend Fiona (Lenora Crichlow) is dead.
Fiona was last seen with Preston’s son Junior (Brandon Sklenar), who claims to have dropped off the drunken miss at her room. And maybe she was cheating on him. So, convinced that’s a bunch of bull, Neelyn picks a fight with him, and that earns the attention of Preston, who has his right-hand man (Bruce McGill) tell him to never to harm his boy again. Even Harris warns him not to get in too deep.
But does that stop him? Obviously not.
On the side, we meet the oil foreman Will (Nicholas Braun), who was hired by the old man to be his boy’s friend and protector, to keep him out of trouble. And that same man is dating the bartender Kara (Leven Rambin), who often gets harassed by Junior. He tries to be nice with him, but he ends up getting beaten. It just has be, as far as I’m concerned.
I think we can agree Neelyn, Will, and Kara want their revenge on Junior, and that shakes things up.
The performances from Jones, McDowell, Perlman, and Sklenar are all impressive in the ways they ignite sparks in their characters, and you ponder about where they intend to go. They have words, appearances, and vulnerabilities that make them so likable.
And I admire the style and tone that makes this crime film look and feel entertaining. I was almost reminded of another crime western of its taste like “Hell or High Water.” But unfortunately, “The Big Ugly” is all looks and less inspiration, and that ended up leaving me bored.
It’s practically the same material we’ve seen done better before. In fact, earlier this year, I’ve viewed two crime entries of its kind that took risks like Guy Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen” or Clark Duke’s “Arkansas.” Yes, we acknowledge that the characters all want to do what’s right for themselves, given that they lose loved ones along the way or at least have them be threatened. But I was expecting them to dig deeper, instead of just jumping to conclusions and firing bullets.
I’m in the middle on this one. Let’s close this review off with that, shall we?
Streaming on demand this Friday