Craig Fairbrass’ textured mug can’t save this low-budget crime flick that tumbles headfirst into cliche.
Considering its title, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Villain marks yet another entry in the superhero genre. Instead, this gritty crime flick is basically an SNL skit come to life — one sketch in particular.
Follow me down this rabbit hole a sec: a little less than a decade ago, during an episode hosted by Russell Brand (wow, remember when Russell Brand was a thing?), the crew at 30 Rock produced a hilarious fake trailer for an oppressively British crime drama. The tone? Dark. The accents? Thick, garbled, and indecipherable. The title? “Don’t You Go Rounin Round to Re Ro.”
Anyway, Villain is basically the feature-length version of “Don’t You Go Rounin Round to Re Ro.” The entirely unremarkable directorial debut of Philip Barantini, this made-for-Redbox thriller is about as rote a British crime flick as they come. There’s no hook. Instead, we meet grizzled ex-con Eddie Franks (Craig Fairbrass) as he’s being released from an English penitentiary. He’s picked up by his brother Sean (played by co-writer George Russo) – unfortunately, while Eddie was in the can, his younger sibling picked up a nasty coke addiction and an even nastier debt to some of London’s most notorious gangsters.
And why should we care? Villain never really conjures up an answer. It’s clear that the filmmakers feel they’ve found a rough gem in Fairbrass, as they lean into close-up after close-up of his well-worn mug. It’s a face that looks ripped out of a comic book or a pulp novel, filled with deep wrinkles that communicate years of tough experience, again, presented to the audience over and over. But what Fairbrass seems to lack is any sort of personality or charisma to back up his features –as a result, his character has more in common with a beat-up telephone pole than a compelling protagonist.
Eddie does appear prone to fits of rage, as we see in an early scene in which two patrons of the bar he runs with his brother mouth off. Villain disappoints here too, rarely delivering any action sequences. When some excitement does arrive, the ensuing fisticuffs are about as easy to follow as the gruff accents. This is in part due to Barantini’s only bold filmmaking choice: occasionally cutting in-and-out of scenes, briefly skipping forward in time before filling in the cracks. In the end, it’s a gimmick that doesn’t do much to inject life into this frankly frequently boring picture.
The supporting characters are all equally thin. Sean’s girlfriend is in the movie to do a striptease scene and nothing more, Eddie has a buddy who lends him some money, and the gangsters the Franks brothers face have no defining qualities. Scenes have a bad habit of ending with shouting matches and some of the foulest language possible. All of this would be fine if this simplicity and minimalism were in the service of… anything. Alas, they’re not.
At ninety-something minutes, at least Villain refuses to linger. The ending recalls Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way, minus the whole tragedy that stems from feeling emotionally invested in what’s happening. It’s not a film you’re likely to watch, let alone remember. In the end, all Villain proves is that you truly Don’t Go Rounin Round to Re Ro.
Villain chews through its Cockney crime caper on VOD May 22nd.