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Article Archive >> Entertainment

Movies From the Black Lagoon: Johnny Was

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Johnny Was - 2006, Rated R

Direct to video titles continued their upward trend with the release of this title that mixes elements of the best British thrillers like "Get Carter" and "The Crying Game". The best thing about lower budgeted films (this was made for less than ten million so "believe it or not" it qualifies as such in today's sagging economy) is that they take chances and offer meaty roles for those actors who don't command a hefty paycheck but bring plenty of talent to the table. This effort offers prime roles for an eclectic cast and the lower budget means that anything can happen since the story is not under any pressure to appeal to mass audiences. That works out well for the viewer here as they are treated to fully developed characters and a realistic story that never rings false.
Vinnie Jones (who often props up mega-budgeted films, like "X-Men 3," as a convenient villain due to his hulking stature) stars as Johnny. He's a wounded soul hiding out in Brixton (think England's version of the south side of Chicago) and licking his wounds after a stint as an Irish terrorist. Johnny just wants some peace and to stay off the radar of his old cronies but that's never going to happen as his apartment is wedged between a faux Jamaican drug dealer and a pirate reggae station. His troubles, however, come from another sector when his old comrade, Flynn, arrives on his doorstep after breaking out of prison and killing a guard. Flynn is also traveling with a young pro toge, Michael, who had the misfortune to injure his knee in the breakout.
Setting up a meeting between Flynn and the gangsters who have worked with them in the past proves easy enough but the problem is that said thugs want nothing to do with Flynn and are more than happy to sell him out to the police. This places Johnny in a tough spot as he must get rid of Flynn before he threatens to open up old wounds. The drug dealer downstairs, Julius, is willing to help after Flynn promises to help him out by cutting his heroine for him. Flynn, however, wouldn't know heroine from hair gel and it falls to Johnny to help him out. Things are further complicated by Johnny's affections for Julius' girlfriend, Rita, who's an ex-nurse that got busted for raiding the hospital's drug supply. Can Johnny help out Flynn and manage to save Rita before she's as destroyed as he is? It's not going to be easy when Flynn poisons Julius' dope and addicts start dropping like flies. It sure won't help that the gangsters are ready to kill Flynn themselves and the police are closing in on everyone.
This one really works and it is all due to solid scripting and a host of naturalistic performances by a seasoned cast. Jones makes for a solid lead and his anguish over accidentally killing an innocent woman for his terrorist friends is etched on his face through the course of the film. Eriq La Salle (ER) also turns in some fine work as Julius, a man so mean he could kill you with his eyebrows. The real treat here, though, is Patric Bergin's performance as Flynn.
It's the best part he's had since he menaced Julia Roberts in "Sleeping with the Enemy". Bergin does a fantastic reveal here when the audience realizes that the character's passion for the Irish cause masks a true sadist who only got into the work because he enjoys inflicting misery on everyone in his orbit.
He's that true villain who is most dangerous to those he calls friends. To Bergin's credit he plays the character as if doing harm to others was an instinct akin to scratching one's nose. This is great stuff and there are enough gunfights, betrayals, and tough guy dialog to make it all marketable as a crime drama though it reaches much further-and succeeds.
Best Line: "This is Rita. She's taking care of Michael. He had a wee humpty dumpty."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.

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