UK 2001
director/script : Joe Tucker
cinematography : Ian Liggett, Roger Eaton
editing : St John O’Rorke
lead actors : Joe Tucker, James Holmes, Nicola Stapleton, Tom Bell
90 minutes (approx)

If you couldn’t see much of Notting Hill in Notting Hill, writer-director-star Joe Tucker’s Lava offers an alternative W11 populated by gun-toting crazies, thugs and drug dealers. An attempt to blend Mike Leigh character-based social commentary and cartoonish, Guy Ritchie OTT violence, it’s just as stylised as anything in the Grant-Roberts blockbuster, and Tucker certainly gives himself plenty of flattering movie-star close-ups as Smiggy, a delusional ex-soldier determined to help mild-mannered shelf-stacker Phillip (Holmes) avenge the attack that left his brother brain-damaged. When the hapless pair locate the culprit, they inadvertently ignite a drugs dispute between rival gangs that soon escalates into a bullet-ridden bloodbath.

Though there are periodic, somewhat redundant cuts to the Notting Hill Carnival going on in the streets outside, almost all the action takes place in one flat, over the course of one day. Along with the over-familiar situations and characters, this gives Lava the distinct feel of an adaptation from some would-be-controversial production from London’s Royal Court Theatre. It’s also reminiscent of those film-school graduation shorts where the director’s eagerness to impress results in him trying far, far too hard. When characters snorts crystal meth, for instance, Tucker can’t come up with anything more imaginative than showing their faces through a distorting fish-eye lens: Requiem For A Dream it ain’t.

But while the plot, with its drug elements, mistaken identities and gagged victims tied to chairs, strongly recalls Skip Woods’ Tarantino rip-off Thursday, Lava does have an engaging, blood-spattered momentum of its own. Tucker’s script neatly provides each of the different factions involved with their own, mutually-incomprehensible attitudes and dialects, and, as befits a graduate of the Leigh method, Tucker allows the actors space to develop their characters, an approach which pays decent dividends and makes for a watchable enough movie. But even the most indulgent audiences will have their patience sorely tested by Holmes, whose endlessly-whining (“Smiggay…!”) AstonVilla-balaclava clad Phillip would be enough to have even arch-liberal Leigh reaching for his sawn-off shooter.

19th June, 2001

by Neil Young
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