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Case Number 13684

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Dead Fish

Image Entertainment // 2005 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // May 23rd, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge William Lee craves English style fish and chips, but the smell of dead fish ruined his appetite.

The Charge

"I am a total stupid idiot and I need help, big help. And I need it right now."
—Abe Klein (Andrew Lee Potts)

Opening Statement

Fresh faces and powerhouse veterans make up the impressive cast of this action comedy that attempts to capture the energy and laughs of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. However, the finished product is a mess despite the high production value in the effort. That odor filling the room is the Dead Fish you left in the DVD player.

Facts of the Case

An eclectic mix of lowlife characters is assembled in London for a noisy, crime-caper comedy of errors. Abe Klein (Andrew Lee Potts, 1408) is a 21-year-old locksmith/safe-cracker/pothead from the US who is on the verge of being dumped by his pregnant Spanish girlfriend Mimi (Elena Anaya, Van Helsing). After he accidentally switches cell phones with a hitman named Lynch (Gary Oldman, Batman Begins), Abe sees an opportunity to pay off his debt to Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting), a foul-mouthed loan shark. Lynch is hot on Abe's trail not only to fulfill his assignment but because he is smitten with Mimi. Meanwhile, Lynch's employers are concerned that they have lost contact with their hired killer and send in a backup contractor to clean up the mess.

The Evidence

If Americans had made this movie it would have likely been another Tarantino rip-off, but the German production team has chosen to use the crime comedy mould of Guy Richie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Unfortunately, Dead Fish does not have that movie's mixture of interesting characters, exciting camerawork and witty script that made that tour of London's underworld so much fun. Instead, the filmmakers have thrown together a lot of noise and flash in the hope that viewers won't notice the weak script.

Making no effort to rise above the level of contrived stupidity, the story is all plot points and no substance. The setup for the switch of the cell phones is unconvincing as there is no reason why the characters could not have checked to see if they had the correct phones. For that matter, it makes no sense for a common thief to snatch the cell phone out of the hand of a complete stranger. How much could a used cell phone fetch on London's black market? There is no believability to the hitman storyline either since there is no attempt to explain who the potential victims are or why they are targeted. Lynch gets paid loads of money to knock off guys who apparently have no security force whatsoever. In fact, when Abe and his friend intercept Lynch's assignment, these two stoners subsequently are able to walk right into the guy's private office with a gun.

There is a plot development about a third of the way into the movie that kicks the story into gear. When Abe and his friend meet Mr. Fish (Terence Stamp, Elektra), Lynch's latest target, it is painfully obvious where the scene is leading us. But then the story pulls a huge cheat. A crucial piece of information from this scene is deliberately kept from the viewer until the end of the movie—when its revelation changes everything. Perhaps this plot device could have been better handled, but here it just feels like a cheap trick.

Gary Oldman looks like he's game to put a lighter spin on the intense characters he usually portrays, but the movie's direction only lets him play two notes—sociopath or love-struck social misfit—without the scenes to bridge the two extremes. One moment Lynch is a cold-blooded and efficient killing machine, the next he's speechless before a pretty girl. There are also scenes of Lynch enjoying the services of prostitutes and S&M mistresses meant to give his character more depth. But for all the good these scenes have on the story, he could just as well have been a gardener. As for Lynch's professional method, one moment he'll shoot a guy before he can finish his sentence, and other times he'll let the victim ramble on and on until he figures out an escape. It could have been interesting to see Oldman as a bumbling and inept hitman, but in this story we are supposed to see him as a formidable killer and this movie's haphazard direction doesn't know which way to go.

As for the young hero of the story, Andrew Lee Potts plays Abe convincingly as an irresponsible Californian pothead. However, there is nothing in the script to explain what a 21-year-old, expert locksmith/safe-cracker from the US is doing in the UK. Potts finds the right anxious energy for his character to stumble his way through the story but I never got a sense for the character's emotions and intentions. Why does he go to the rendezvous even after knowing he has the wrong cell phone? Why does he take Lynch's package even though his initial reaction is to leave it? Did he really say "This is so not happening to me" after the story is well into the last act? Abe is "a total stupid idiot," as he says in the opening narration. I don't remember the last time I cared less whether or not the hero survived and got the girl.

Robert Carlyle has the loudest supporting role as Danny Devine, a comic variation on Begbie from Trainspotting. With a foul temper and a mouth to match, Danny is unfunny and annoying. Carlyle is constantly screaming and swearing in a showy performance of no dimension. It isn't obvious on first viewing (because it's the first scene in the movie) but Danny's introduction adds incredulity to the implausible story. Danny is screaming and swearing over the phone to someone who owes him money. After a long sampling of his vile monologue, the guy on the other end doesn't know with whom he's talking—even though this is the only way Danny ever speaks—until Danny says his name.

Another supporting player is Billy Zane (BloodRayne: Unrated Director's Cut) as Virgil, the local go-between for Lynch and his employers. Sporting a completely phony aristocratic English accent, Zane's character adds nothing to the story and every scene with Virgil brings this limp comedy to a halt. Virgil is just another example of the bloated production value on display. There are large and elaborately designed sets that serve no purpose, props that don't make sense (Abe's van has a remote controlled robot on its roof), distractingly cheesy visual effects and pointless dialogue. In one of the most glaring moments of wasted time, Lynch breaks into song to express his romantic interest in Mimi only to have the fantasy moment aborted when a dominatrix snaps him back to reality. There are just too many random ideas thrown into the bag for this movie to find a consistent tone.

The movie is competently photographed and some scenes make good use of the London locations. But there are a lot of unmotivated camera moves and superfluous angles. The picture is slightly soft on this DVD and the image has a subtle yellow color bias. The surround sound mix is yet another example of the overproduction heaped onto this movie. The surround channels are busy with music, crowd noise and environmental sound effects. While the actors' dialogue remains clear, it does not have a dominant presence in the soundscape.

The extras consist primarily of an abundance of talking head interviews. Actors Gary Oldman, Andrew Lee Potts, Robert Carlyle, Elena Anaya, Jimi Mistry, Billy Zane and Terence Stamp talk about how they got involved with the production and elaborate on their characters. One refreshing moment is hearing Stamp's honesty about his involvement: he was only required for three days of shooting and it fit into his schedule. It was also a bit startling to hear Potts speak in his natural English accent, which shows he can pull off playing American without a hitch. Director Charlie Stadler, producers Philip Schulz-Deyle and Dan Maag, executive producer Doug Urbanski, and production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos also get their chance to speak.

Closing Statement

Throwing the kitchen sink into this story wasn't going to save it. The unfunny script is a mess with unconvincing underworld elements. There isn't a single character we can care about and too many unnecessary ones. The direction can't bring it under control and no amount of production design was going to hide that fact.

The Verdict

Why flog a dead fish? This stinker needs to go in the garbage. Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 86
Extras: 36
Acting: 75
Story: 56
Judgment: 67

Perp Profile

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Crime

Distinguishing Marks

• Cast and Crew Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb

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