Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 3: Al’s Lads (2002)

als lads

Directed by: Richard Standeven

Halfway through ‘The Stars Collection’, and I haven’t felt this fatigued since I pulled a hammy climbing Beeston Bump three summers ago. I can’t say that the films I’ve sat through thus far have been woeful, but they’ve been tiring to watch. There’s something to be said for two films containing ample amounts of stodgy dialogue and plodding scenes that lead up to moderately expensive yet completely unnecessary action sequences, in that they set-up a point of interest for the viewer, yet retaining that interest is where these films struggle.

I hope things get better…

Grizzly dark violence, a back alley throat slitting, not too far removed from ‘Boardwalk Empire’ leads into a shot of the Titanic…. no wait; this is another luxury cruise liner. Great, I think to myself, this film is going to be stuck on a bloody boat. On board we discover that the crew are a merry bunch of Scousers. By day they serve the wealthy travellers, by night they nick booze from the kitchen stock room and fight bare knuckle boxing contests.

Three of the lads – Jimmy (Marc Warren), Dan (Ralf Little) and Eddy (Stephen Lord) plan, when the liner docks in the States, to make a new life for themselves in Texas. With a stash of gin bottles they attempt to con a couple of sharply dressed Yanks. The two men, who moonlight as streetwise gangsters, outsmart the lost Englishmen, and talk them into a bare knuckle boxing contest. Jimmy, the slugger of the trio, is up for a scrap.

I think Marc Warren deserves some praise for his wiry performance as Jimmy, although at times it is distracting that his boxing storyline runs parallel to Eddy and Dan’s comedy double act, he plays with aplomb a believable gutsy fighter who lives with the whole world on his shoulders.

The fights scenes in the film are surprisingly realistic, though we’re not getting the poetic drama in-ring drama of ‘Raging Bull’, or the attention to detail of ‘The Fighter’, there is battling grittiness shared with movies that have featured bare knuckle contests such as ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Snatch’, where each punch can almost be felt through the screen.

The action shifts to Chicago; where after impressing Georgio, the lead gangster, Jimmy is groomed as a fighter under the tutelage of a wise man named Boom Boom played by Richard ‘Shaft’ Roundtree, operating here in the Morgan Freeman role (Hollywood’s equivalent to the Makelele role?); whilst Eddy and Dan scrub factory floors and carry out delivery jobs for a grey haired fella named Birch.

It is in Chicago that the lads figure out they’re working on the lowest rungs of Al Capone’s pay ladder. Jimmy is set up to take a dive in a high profile championship fight with a boxer named Sammy Cruz, Eddie and Dan realize that the heavy wardrobes they’ve been shifting around town contain dead bodies. As danger circles, the lads find out they’ve gotten involved in a situation way over their heads.

I have a minor gripe with the chummy Scouse chat between the three lads, mainly because it is rather annoying. To give you a flavour, one exchange is “How’s it going mate?”, “Its tough mate”, the word “mate” gets used bloody hundreds to times. I’m aware that might accurately reflect working class Liverpudlian dialogue, but Christ, this wasn’t reflected in ‘Nowhere Boy’ or ‘Backbeat’ that featured salt of the earth lads from Merseyside.

There are also two bizarre, and I wouldn’t call them cameos, but very minor supporting roles in the film for Warwick Davis and Ricky Tomlinson. Davis is miscast as a murderous gangster dwarf (did such a thing exist in Capone’s Chicago?), and likely this was one of the roles that he drew inspiration for him when working on ‘Life’s Too Short’, and Tomlinson jovially larks about at the beginning and then right at the end of the movie. His appearance is rather baffling in both scenes and adds nothing to the ***Spoiler Alert*** happy ending.

– RJW
6/10

Al’s Lads on IMDB
Buy Al’s Lads [DVD]

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Mob Story (1989)


Directed by: Gabriel and Jancarlo Markiw

Look at the above pictures; you’d assume Margot Kidder, best known for playing Lois Lane in the first batch of ‘Superman’ movies, was the leading actress in ‘Mob Story’. She isn’t, but I guess she was the big name, and the film industry has often sold a film on name power alone.

‘Mob Story’ is apparently a raucous comedy. Ha ha! That’s like Heston Blumenthal trying to tell me that a Waitrose lasagne ready meal is in the same league as one of the experimental concoctions from his world famous Michelin starred restaurant. A raucous comedy for me is something like ‘Airplane!’, ‘Hot Shots!’, or some of the eighties National Lampoon films. There are brief moments that raise a chuckle from my coal bunker belly of laughs… brief moments, not laugh a minute stuff. ‘Mob Story’ is tepidly amusing.

Mob Story opens with glorious aerial shots of NYC. Any film becomes fifty per cent more interesting when it opens with a big city view. The towering buildings, the recognizable landmarks, everything seems gloriously big and bold. We then see Luce, a dapper looking Mafia don, aged in his late fifties, arriving at a ferry station. Luce meets with his cohort Sam, and tells him that he’s going to Palm Springs.

We’re then taken to an icy Winnepeg, Canada. Gianni Romano is attempting to extort money from a woman called Maria who owns an Italian restaurant. He’s after three thousand dollars, but Maria is able to negotiate with Gianni and he feebly walks away with one hundred and fifty.

Luce, the night before his departure to Palm Springs, hears the voice of Maria, his old flame, the lady who owns the Italian restaurant. He makes an about turn at the Airport, following his heart and probably his gut instinct that he is going to be the recipient of a mob hit in Palm Springs, and decides instead to fly to Winnepeg.

Margot Kidder first appears in the film scantily clad in black lingerie; she plays Delores, a slutty looking dancer, the girlfriend of Gianni. Delores chastises Gianni for not getting the three thousand dollars from Maria, and demands that he starts to act like a gangster.

Luce arrives in Winnepeg, and as the place is colder than a polar bears nipple he declares it to be a “pretty tough town”. He arrives at the Italian restaurant and meets Maria’s son Tom, an average frustrated beta male who’s getting pussy whipped by his on/off girlfriend. Luce introduces himself as Tom’s uncle. He then meets Maria, and there is history there, deep history. Maria blames Luce for the death of her husband Alfredo, only Alfredo isn’t dead according to Luce. He is living it up in Venezuela with an attractive blonde.

The rest of the movie consists of Sam discovering that Luce is hiding in Winnepeg and sends a few hitmen over to take him out. Gianni, as the local gangster is also brought into Sam’s plan, and tries to find Luce; this involves him and Delores latching onto Tom and trying to get information from him by taking him to a hotel and indulging in a boozy ménage a trois.

‘Mob Story’ is a terribly limp parody of the gritty Gangster genre. John Vernon is warm and cuddly, and just doesn’t strike me as a feared mobster, or even an actor who is able to make a funny impression of one. Al Waxman’s performance as Sam again is pretty weak, he seems overly pathetic. Only Margot Kidder and Robert Morelli provide light relief as the bickering couple. One underutilized character is Sam’s German hitman Heinrich played by Brian Paul, who seductively licks the barrel of his gun before he shoots his victim, it would have been nice to see more interactions between him and Sam, because they do have the odd funny exchange.

If you pick ‘Mob Story’ up from a discount store bargain bin or charity shop then I’d advise you to put it back down again. It simply isn’t worth watching.

My immediate thoughts about this film were overwhelmed by my sense of pity I felt for Margot Kidder. One of my childhood crushes, Kidder was the leading lady in a successful franchise, although like to many involved in the Superman films she appeared to have been hit by its infamous curse. Maybe it’s because she became typecast, especially after her early career in Hollywood when she appeared in Brian De Palma’s acclaimed ‘Blood Sisters’. The eighties was a turbulent time for her with two divorces in between her work on the Superman films and numerous other film and TV projects, she then lost her way and was declared bankrupt, she found herself in a very dark place. I suppose it’s good to know that she’s found peace with her past, but her tale is a cautionary one for young actresses. Hollywood tends to chew you up like bubble gum, fondling you with its fat rich tongue, and then spits you out on the cold pavement when you lose your flavour.

– RJW
2/10

Mob Story on IMDB
Buy Mob Story [DVD] [1989]