Running Time: 105 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Country: United Kingdom
While doing the promo rounds for directorial debut Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn has seemed keen to point out that this is NOT a gangster film. Hes even got his lead character, played by Daniel Craig, saying it in one of the very first scenes. Im not a gangster, he tells us. Im a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine. Yeah, right. If this isnt a gangster film, Im Bob Hoskins. And despite the receding hairline and gradually stretching waistband, Im NOT Bob Hoskins.
Of course, its not too hard to work out what Vaughns game is. Hes trying to distance himself and his product from the inevitable comparison with the works of cheeky Mockney mate Guy Ritchie. Vaughn was a co-producer on Ritchies two biggest hits Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and he also worked alongside him on Mean Machine. Hell, lets not beat around the bush here the guy was best man at Ritchies wedding. So you cant help but think hes fighting a bit of an uphill battle if he doesnt want anyone to bring up his pals name when discussing this new film.
Still, if Vaughn REALLY wanted to avoid such comparisons, he could always have brought out something other than a crime-drama about a bunch of inter-twined Londoners who deal drugs, carry shooters, and jam each others heads in sunbed lids. Layer Cake has all that, plus Lock, Stock alumni Dexter Fletcher, plus a quirky, at-times overly-stylish directorial approach which could only be described as Ritchie-esque.
So originality isnt one of its strong points, then. However, what the film does boast is a cracking performance from Craig, as the smooth pill-pusher who winds up in over his head with some bigger boys just when its looking like hes going to be able to head off into the sunset and retire. It also has a couple of extremely memorable scenes one of which is an eye-popping act of thuggery inside a greasy spoon, and the other is the shocking, memorable ending. Round those good points off with a cleverly-selected soundtrack (The Cult, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran are among those providing a classy, imaginative musical backdrop) and youve got the spine, at least, of a very good film.
What it does lack is the humour Ritchie normally uses to pepper his films (a few instances of comic relief would have helped it go down), and writer J.J. Connolly (who adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same name) could really have done with being a little more selective with the parts he left in. But, all in all, Layer Cake gave me hope that, after several years of generic disappointment, there could still be life in the British gangster flick yet (and yes, Matthew, that IS what this is!).
It's Got: A shell-suit clad drugsmith called The Duke, who looks like a bizarre cross between Stan Boardman and David Essex.
It Needs: A few more laughs, and a few less minutes.
Make sure you grab a slice of the cake.