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The Limey

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Limey

Starring: Terrence Stamp, Peter Fonda
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Lesley Ann Warren, Amelia Heinle, Barry Newman, Luis Guzman, Nicky Katt, Joe Dallesandro, Bill Duke

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Terence Stamp, an unusually fine character actor, is the titled character of a film called "The Limey" (a slang term generally meaning citizen of Britain) because Stamp's character, Wilson, is so quintessentially lower-class English that his colloquialisms and even his heavy accent are scarcely understood by the Americans with whom he comes into contact. "The Limey" is a crime story with a simple trajectory: man's daughter is murdered, dad comes looking for the killer to avenge the offense. What gives the film an unusual stamp, so to speak, is the method by which its director, Steven Soderbergh, unfolds the plot. Soderbergh is anything but a conventional 36-year-old director. His quirky "sex, lies and videotape" which surfaced ten years ago, is based on a script he wrote in one eight-day burst and put across with a budget of just over one million dollars--a morality tale that was the hit of the 1989 Cannes Film Festival (Palme d'Or--best film). Exceptionally well acted by James Spader, Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher, his first film was about a selfish lawyer with a frigid wife, who takes on his sister-in-law as a lover--an exceptionally talky drama coming from a young hand.

"The Limey," however, is anything but dialogue-driven. Full of action--though not gratuitous violence--the picture is Soderbergh's way of proving that you can tell a story with a succession of images, some repeated at various points in the story, others thrown in almost helter-skelter with the aim of showing us Wilson's character from different points of view. We see Wilson as an outsider in Los Angeles, a visitor who flies into town the way the hero gunmen used to do to clean up the old West. He has not come to admire the gorgeous scenery of the Big Sur area, but simply to eliminate up the scourge he finds and delete not only his daughter's killer but apparently all who work for this fabulously wealthy man. He's no marshall Gary Cooper putting on his guns to help purify the West, but rather a flawed visitor from out East who has just completed a nine-year sentence for armed robbery in his native England.

As Wilson (a man of few but charmingly idiomatic words) mounts his design for vengeance, he allies himself with two friends of his deceased daughter, Ed (Luis Guzman) and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), who fill him in on their area of the cliff-bound countryside and act as his guardian angels while this powerful 60-ish man knocks off some of the toughest characters who are into the state's opulent drug culture. His opponent is a weak man, too easy to pick off once his bodyguards are eliminated. As the villainous Terry Valentine, Peter Fonda is a handsome but aging and somewhat effeminate party-giver with two lavish cliffside homes and a gorgeous girl friend, Adhara (Amelia Heinle)--a man whose income allegedly comes from his success as a producer of rock-and-roll records during the mid-sixties but whose major income actually comes from criminals who use him to launder their drug money.

"The Limey" makes no major innovations in the crime genre save for its repeated use of imagery thrown in for no apparent purpose save to look inventive. A recurrent impression is of Wilson sitting poker-faced in his airline seat presumably contemplating revenge as he heads from London to L.A. He frequently speaks to his daughter's friend, Ed, in Ed's unassuming house, the camera suddenly changing locations to Ed's car, where the conversation is actually taking place. At times the rapid scene changes come across so arbitrarily that viewers cannot be blamed for thinking that they are watching a rough, unedited cut of the story. The most striking recollection is the movie's chief comic touch. >From time to time Soderbergh flashes back to a more youthful Terence Stamp of thirty years ago as he serenades the gals with his guitar--the footage actually taken from Ken Loach's "Poor Cow", about working-class loners, in which Stamp plays the best friend of a promiscuous woman's husband. This is a clever touch indeed.

Though a minor entry into the crowded world of movies about iniquity, "The Limey" is well-acted particularly by Stamp--known to teens as the evil General Zod in "Superman II" and to me mainly for a role as a sex therapist in a fabulous film not even mentioned in his press bio, "Bliss."

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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