crime, Movies, Reviews, scraping the barrel

Scraping the barrel – Hard Boiled Sweets

As a naive young aspiring film critic (haha, actually 42 at the time, I’m older and wiser now) I occasionally attend press screenings of obvious tat for reasons other than the film at hand.

This is how sad I am, I keep a mental scorecard of London’s private screening rooms and when a show comes up at one I haven’t previously visited, I usually jump at it so I can tick off another box. And so a few years ago I found myself heading into the unfamiliar territory of Marylebone (rather than the usual Soho) for my first and (so far) only trip to a very nice screening room in the offices of Working Title.

NB – I should point out that FilmCo’s and distributors occasionally rent out their screening rooms, and as far as I can see Working Title had no actual culpability for what I was about to see.

The screening room did not disappoint, a plush and comfortable affair featuring a trio of massive leather armchairs dead centre with… get this… TELEPHONES IN THE ARMRESTS!!! Absolute heaven, I could not resist the temptation to pretend to be Harry Cohn, “roll the picture Marv”, “the writer wants a trailer? Fire the Schmuck!”, “Barrymore is in the building? Hide the good scotch”. I sat there chuckling to myself until I spied looking at me like I was a meshugener a senior and respected film journalist and box office guru (who out of professional courtesy *cough* shall remain nameless).

Yeah, the screening room was great, I give it five stars.

While a top 10 review of London’s screening rooms appeals to me, it probably doesn’t to you. So on with the evisceration of another waste of an SD card (movies are so much less romantic in the digital age). The movie I was there to see was British gangster film Hardboiled Sweets at late entry in the GEE-ZAAAH sub-genre, a cycle that had sprung to life in the late nineties.

London gangster Jimmy the Gent is being chauffeured around the South East of England collecting dues from deputies in the provinces. Jimmy’s next visitation is with Shrewd Eddie in Southend. What he doesn’t know is that the odious and violent Eddie is also the target of an influx of criminals planning to rip him off.

These include: Johnny – newly released from prison, Johnny wants to go straight but corrupt policeman Fred drags him into his scheme; slick pimp Gerry – who supplied Eddie with moll Porsche from his stable of seafront tarts; finally there’s Eddie’s lover Porsche herself – she knows Jimmy is visiting with a briefcase of cash and plans to rip off them both. None of them are aware that Jimmy is deeply in hock to Leroy, a rival London gangster. Leroy is having Jimmy guarded by his young enforcer Jermaine, but plans to have him whacked when he gets his cash.

This complicated set up is laboriously explained by giving each character a voice over and a title card likening them to a type of old fashioned confectionery. This explains why the film carries the atrocious title – it could have been worse, according to IMDB the working title was ‘Crikey Villains’.

The film had picked up some baffling early buzz as a new Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Carefully stoked with some well chosen enthusiastic pull quotes and its somewhat random acquisition by Universal. Hopes evaporated within minutes of the opening credits. Guy Richie’s film may have opened the floodgates to a tidal wave of mockney cobblers, but it was a well plotted movie, with memorable characters, and it popped and fizzed with filmmaking energy. In comparison Hard Boiled Sweets is severely lacklustre.

The film’s multi-stranded storylines are served up in great gelatinous chunks. This means that just when you are getting interested in one character, they disappear to make way for the next indigestible hunk of gristly narrative meat. The characters are all drawn from the big book of Brit crime cliches: the ex-con trying to go straight; the scheming gangster’s moll; the corrupt copper; the old school gang boss with terrible taste in home furnishings; the naive young prostitute. That none of these people are remotely sympathetic is fine, after all you wouldn’t want to invite any of the characters in Reservoir Dogs to have tea with your nan. However that none of them are remotely interesting is a problem.

There is a thick streak of misogyny running through this film like lettering through seaside rock. This is the sort of flick where women sleep in Wonderbras and wake up with perfectly applied makeup. All but one of the female characters in the film is a prostitute, and the one that isn’t is a crude caricature of a needy wife who inadvertently forces her husband into perfidy. There are several bedroom scenes, all of the woman-writhing-around-in-Anne-Summers-underwear variety. That the female characters are shown exploiting the stupidity and vanity of the male characters, just shows a film trying to have it’s cake and eat it.

All of this leads to a very sub-sub-sub-Tarantino-esque series of Mexican stand offs but Hardboiled Sweets lacks the ambition to mount action on any scale, and looks as cheap as the wallpaper in a Southend caff. To give the film some credit events do not play out in an entirely predictable way. However overall the movie is so cliché-ridden and crass right up until the finale that it is likely audiences will be too soporific to be surprised.

A version of this review was published previously on screenjabber.com

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