Title: The Big Ugly
Describe This Movie In One Commando Quote:
CINDY: I can't believe this macho bullshit.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Rowdy Redcoat riles randy rednecks.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 glasses of milk out of 5.
Better Tagline: "Oh, to be in Appalachia, now that Vinnie's there."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Loyal English mob henchman Neelyn (Vinnie Jones) travels from London to West Virginia with his boss (Malcolm McDowell) to seal a money laundering deal with Appalachian oilman Preston (Ron Perlman). Things goes smoothly until Neelyn's long-time girlfriend Fiona (Lenora Crichlow) disappears, having last been seen in the company of Preston's unctuous son Junior (Brandon Sklenar). And you thought the War of 1812 was bloody.
"Critical" Analysis: Former English footballer Vinnie Jones has enjoyed a steady film career playing "hard men" in movies like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Swordfish, Snatch, and The Condemned. And these roles haven't been a dramatic stretch for the guy whose first image on a Google search is him grabbing Newcastle midfielder Paul Gascoigne in the junk.
The Big Ugly, which finds Jones teaming up again with Condemned director Scott Wiper, offers a slight expansion of that persona. Neelyn is as long in the tooth as the actor himself, and thus in a more vulnerable framework than his previous badasses. This isn't to say he's suddenly a thespian, however. A few craggy teardrops and a convincingly taken beatdown aren't necessarily going to perk ears up at Oscar headquarters.
Then again, in 2020 ... who knows?
This movie was conceived by Wiper as a star vehicle for Jones, so it's a little puzzling how his arc gets sidelined in favor of the tentative romance between Preston's good-at-heart foreman Will's (Nicholas Braun) and local bartender Kara (Leven Rambin). The primary conflict, between Neelyn and Junior, gets resolved relatively early, leaving more room for scenery chewing between Perlman and McDowell.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. McDowell can play cantankerous geezers in his sleep, while Perlman reportedly took the role of Preston solely for the character's introduction, in which he dresses down of a group of d-bags flying the Stars and Bars: "You wanna fly a flag? Go win something."
There was potential here for ... something: a fish (and chips) out of water tale of a British gangster forced to adapt to the backwood ways of West Virginia is theoretically cool. And you do get some of this. Neelyn's interaction with local drunk/firearm enthusiast Thomas (Donnybrook's David Myers Gregory) rings true, and Perlman nails the conflicted (and conniving) oilman forced to reconcile his "family first" mindset with the fact his son is off the rails.
But it never comes together. Jones can't make the "Sir John of Wick" concept work on his own (some character backstory would have helped immensely), and the muddled male bonding really emphasizes how anemic the female characters are (the hooker, the fridged girlfriend, and the damsel in distress).
The good news is: this is probably Wiper's best film. Given that his previous works include The Cold Light of Day and The Marine 3, take that assessment with all the salt you feel is necessary.
The Big Ugly is currently playing in select theaters and drive-ins and On Demand.
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