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    The Limey

    Brit crit

    "The Limey" is a fascinating film about a complex British ex-con coming to America to investigate his daughter's death — for the first half-hour, anyway, before it turns ordinary and distant.


    People from England don't sound like Americans. They have different accents and use a somewhat different vocabulary. There's a new film in town which has decided that these differences are worth remarking on frequently and, in fact, that they provide a cinematic raison d'etre. That film is "The Limey."

    Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
    Written by: Lem Dobbs.
    Cast: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Barry Newman, Joe Dallesandro, Nicky Katt, Amelia Heinle, Melissa George, Jim Jenkins, Johnny Sanchez.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    As directed by Steven Soderbergh ("sex, lies and videotape," "Out of Sight"), "The Limey" stars Terence Stamp as a career criminal named Wilson recently sprung from an English prison after a nine-year stint for armed robbery. Learning that his daughter Jenny has died suspiciously in an automobile accident in the States, Wilson heads out to L.A. to shakedown the truth.

    The film starts out remarkably strong, and it's everything you'd expect from a director of Soderbergh's caliber. He uses an extremely interesting expository technique in the first third of the film, almost as if he has shot the story fifteen different ways, and then edited the pieces together so that the dialogue and situations fit together linearly, but visually the characters are in different hemispheres, different worlds. It's a technique so rich and complex that the question is can he keep this up for the entire movie? He cannot. Or perhaps worse, he does not.

    Anyway, for the film's first thirty minutes or so, we're absolutely caught up in the comings, goings, and motivations of this relentless, silver-haired mystery man who moves silently across the screen like Murnau's ghost, speaks very economically (and, I'll admit it, with a bit of an London accent), and doesn't seem too deterred by a bunch of crooks who kick the crap out of him when he starts asking questions about Terry Valentine (the successful music producer with whom Jenny was last seen).

    By the time we're two-thirds into "The Limey," the plot has deteriorated into a standard shoot-em-up. Stamp has taken to doing pitiable stand-up routines emphasizing his grasp of Cockney rhyming slang. What was Soderbergh thinking here?  

    "The Limey" is at its absolute best when it's in reflective mode though, with close-ups of Wilson sitting on a plane, thinking, or standing outside a wrought-iron gate, his head cocked to one side with a cigarette dangling out one corner of his mouth, thinking. Or driving a green car up Route 1 with the sun beating down through the windshield, a page torn from a magazine rather than a frame in a movie, thinking.

    But as the film goes on, Wilson's accent gets thicker and Soderbergh almost completely jettisons the revolutionary visual stylistics that made the earlier part of the film so engrossing. Wilson meets up with a close friend of Jenny's, played by the always stellar Lesley Anne Warren, and the two of them share some interesting scenes but not much chemistry, since Wilson is as difficult to approach as a three-bar fire.

    Peter Fonda, playing Valentine, is nicely centered in the unlikeable role of the affluent, weak, and shady L.A. businessman, but perhaps as strong is the performance of Luis Guzmán (you probably don't know the name but you'll recognize the face), who appears as another friend of Jenny's who serves as Wilson's tour guide.

    By the time we're two-thirds into "The Limey," the plot has deteriorated into a standard shoot-em-up. (Valentine and his pre-pubescent floozy have bolted for his beach house in Big Sur where his dubious bodyguards, headed up by Barry Newman, start shooting each other; I was reminded of "Another Stakeout") Stamp, on the other hand, has taken to doing pitiable stand-up routines emphasizing his grasp of Cockney rhyming slang, such as his scene in the presence of a dumb-struck narc. What was Soderbergh thinking here?

    Perhaps he was thinking that Stamp deserves the kind of "second coming" that John Travolta effected with "Pulp Fiction." This longtime British actor has slowly been working his way towards household name-dom in the last few years with roles — not exactly starring ones — in films such as "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," "Bliss," "Bowfinger" . . . oh, and perhaps you saw him in "Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace" as Chancellor Valorum? No super-significant roles — until now, that is.

    With "The Limey," Stamp proves he's more than adequate in filling those shoes. It's just disappointing that everything around him — a rather routine thriller at the best of times — is allowed to disintegrate into humdrum in the process.

    OCTOBER 19, 1999

    Reader comments on The Limey:

  • i love terence stamp!   from sam, May 10, 2002
  • the limey-pleasure,pain   from dominique ueda, Dec 28, 2003

  • Post a comment on "The Limey"