'44 Inch': A Flat-Chested Ode To The Male Ego

Ray Winstone i i

Boys And Their Toys: When Colin (Ray Winstone) learns that his wife is leaving him, he takes pointed exception to the news. Image Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Image Entertainment
Ray Winstone

Boys And Their Toys: When Colin (Ray Winstone) learns that his wife is leaving him, he takes pointed exception to the news.

Image Entertainment

44 Inch Chest

  • Director: Malcolm Venville
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 91 minutes

Rated R: Words, skin and violence

With: Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Stephen Dillane

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Take the f-word and both c-words out of a new film from the writers of Sexy Beast, and what's left? Very little dialogue, no poetry at all, and yet another derivative ode to wounded masculinity, department of petty thugs. Put the cussing back in, and you have the same, plus smart-aleck writing you could set a white rap song to.

A depressing merger of talent and inconsequence, 44 Inch Chest is a claustrophobic stage play gussied up in neo-noir cinema, stuffed with run-at-the-mouth set pieces bowing low before Mamet, Pinter and (it goes without saying) Tarantino. Here's the plot, for what it's worth: Four seedy types whose vicious streaks barely cover their glaring weaknesses rally round a distraught comrade and talk each other to death.

The movie opens on the prone figure of Colin (Ray Winstone), lying on the floor of a living room littered with the debris of a recent fight. At first he seems to be dead; then what appears to be a beatific smile spreads across his pudgy features, followed by a look of hangdog misery. A chain of phone calls brings his pals — seedy types, most of them between, above or below regular employment — to his side: Archie (Tom Wilkinson), an equable loser in an anorak who lives with his elderly mum (Edna Dore); Meredith (the excellent Ian McShane), a coolly ironic gay aesthete with no discernible feelings; the nattily suited, explosive Mal (Stephen Dillane); and their foul-mouthed patriarch, Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), the articulator of what passes for moral code among this unappetizing crew of constructs.

Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Melvil Poupaud i i

A gang of loyal friends — played by the best of British acting talent including Ian McShane (left) and John Hurt (center) — rally round to help Colin take out his pique on the object of his wife's affections (Melvil Poupaud). Image Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Image Entertainment
Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Melvil Poupaud

A gang of loyal friends — played by the best of British acting talent including Ian McShane (left) and John Hurt (center) — rally round to help Colin take out his pique on the object of his wife's affections (Melvil Poupaud).

Image Entertainment

Once they learn that Colin's beautiful, dissatisfied wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), has left him for another man, his pals kidnap the unfortunate fellow, a French waiter called Loverboy (Melvil Poupaud), and bring him to a run-down old house to rough him up in preparation for Colin's ultimate revenge. In fact, they've brought him there to listen to them gas on — and on, and on — about the nature of love, dreams of vaginas with teeth, Meredith's sexual proclivities, Archie's mum's ailments, Mal's preferred payback technique. Handsomely mounted and lyrically shot by Malcolm Venville, a music-video veteran directing his first feature, 44 Inch Chest takes only the coyest stabs at action, so don't go expecting much bloodletting, let alone ear-slicing.

The film is upholstered with mournful incidental music from Angelo Badalamenti, and it loops fashionably back on itself, toying with time and place, inserting the occasional explicatory fantasy sequence. Occasionally, we're allowed outdoors for a quick peek at a stylishly grungy, nocturnal inner London, complete with the decaying warehouses and gleaming rain puddles so familiar now from the glib new British gangster cinema of Guy Ritchie, Paul McGuigan and others.

Mostly, though, 44 Inch Chest is complacently in love with the rhythmically profane talk that came so easily to writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto in Sexy Beast. As in that superior movie — if only because it had, in Ben Kingsley, a full-blooded wild card to liven up the threadbare themes of alpha-male romance — the idea here is to humanize the gangster by coaxing his inner pussycat out to play and uncovering his capacity to conquer evil through love and blah, blah, blah. Round and round they go, in a masturbatory debate whose lone joke is the fragility of masculine bluster, with its naughty words and its warped honor code, and echoing through it all is the tinny clamor of screenwriters intoxicated with the sound of their own knowing voices.

I suppose you might call 44 Inch Chest the work of a male-feminist imagination, if that can be said of a scenario whose only significant female character gets beaten to a pulp and forced to beg for help on her hands and knees. Thematically undercooked and stylistically overbaked, the movie proves only that in its postmodern, disclaiming form, genre can function either as a launch pad for the creative imagination — or its prison.

Me, I'm with Old Man Peanut, who walks back into a room where much has been said and little has changed since he left it, and spits out in disgust: "Nuffink's 'appened."

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