DVD Review: DEAD FISH; a sorry collection of talented people who should have known better

Ever heard of it? I hadn't, and I'd count myself as somewhat clued in on the various happenings of the British film industry. But then, I don't think there was a lot in the way of shouting going on when this "genre cult gem" was first released.

There is currently an advert running in British cinemas for Jack Daniel's that looks into the meaning of the Old No.7 brand on the bottle, which culminates in the slogan "What the label doesn't tell you, one sip will..." or something very close along those lines. With Dead Fish, the exact opposite is true: the film abides by the most eduring characteristic suggested by the label. It stinks.

The movie is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Read on for the full review...

It never bodes well for a film when it takes six years for it to get a DVD release. Especially when it features performances from actors who are largely known for their excellent performances (Gary Oldman, Robert Carlyle and Terence Stamp), but who have also been known to appear in some terrible films or in slightly off-kilter roles that just don't fit in with the rest of their canon of work. That ominous foreboding feeling I sometimes get in those special circumstances before viewing is amplified even further when the advanced marketing likens that film to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

It is, after all, a sorry condition of those wannabe films that they are generally atrocious. After all Lock, Stock... landed at precisely the right time- it would be incredibly difficult to replicate the phenomenal success that film had by simply replicating the film itself, because with that film Guy Ritchie opened a whole new book on the British gangster film. He injected wit, a clever script and at least vaguely likeable characters into a genre that was growing relentlessly grim and unfun in every way- that the many copy-cats who followed (and the unfortunate offshoot of self-glorifying gangster flicks starring real gangland figures) was not Ritchie's fault, no matter how many times the accusation is thrown at him. What he created was actually fairly glossy. Most of what followed, including Dead Fish, simply wasnt.

I am trying to dredge up the effort to say something about the plot here, and even the faintest flicker of passion is escaping me, so you'll have to do with whatever I can muster up:

Basically, Abe Klein (Andrew Lee Potts) is an American locksmith/safe-cracker/wastrel in England (God only knows why, as there is no explanation in the script) who is on the verge of being dumped by his missus (Elena Anaya). After accidentally switching phones with a hitman named Lynch (Gary Oldman) the young chancer sees an opportunity to pay off his debt to Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle essentially playing Begbie again), a local loan shark. In a further development, Lynch decides to off Abe, not only to fulfill his assignment, but also because he is in love with Mimi (of course). It pretty much descends from there... with other hitmen, and "hilarious" developments that bludgeon you until you're pretty much comatose. And all of this hangs together with no style, a script you wouldn't accept as a first rough draft and no sympathetic characters.

The film attempts, rather misguidedly, to make up for all of its shortcomings by being indignantly loud and stupid all the way through. The chief problem is that there is no script to speak of- Exhibit A, look at the first line we are "treated" to:

I am Abe Klein. Today is my 21 birthday and it's the worst day of my entire life. Because: I am a total stupid idiot and I need help, big help. And I need it right now.

You can almost see the brain behind that one ticking slowly towards the wrong conclusion that that is a proper hook of a line. And it gets worse before the film is even an hour old. There is just no finesse- it is like someone has watched Lock, Stock... on mute, been thrilled by the violence, and the style and decided that the way to recapture, or surpass that film's success would be to dial everything up a notch, take away the script and give a monkey a crayon to come up with one in its place, and somehow convince some recognisable faces to take parts.

Sorry, that's a little harsh. The script is in fact built around a few plot points which you suspect the Ideas Man behind it decided HAD to be in the film for him to finance it, but the problems come when everyone is left to try and string those points believably together. It's all painfully inept, and not even the bluster and violence that come in droves can distract from the overall lack of any kind of quality. For any enjoyment at all, you'd have to silence that voice in your head that asks the million questions that the script leaves open and unanswered: some call it the voice of reason, I suspect that Dead Fish would vehemently deny its existence (or at least its necessity) with the force of a thousand Richard Dawkins.

Dead Fish then is a sorry collection of an awful lot of people who should know an awful lot better. In the past Gary Oldman has been vocal on some of his less savoury film choices- everyone has to eat, and a job is a job- but to see him involved here is rather jarringly disconcerting considering where he went afterwards. But then we can't all make Citizen Kane every time we try something new. Overall, the film has no script to speak of, no characters anyone in their right mind would care about (and way too many superfluous ones), and attempts to throw everything at us to hide its contrived stupidity, in the hope that someone will think its cool.

The only reason you should watch this film is if you have ever wondered where Billy Zane went, and the answer is almost a fucking tragedy. But only almost.

Dead Fish available on Blu-ray and DVD


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