Now, this is interesting. A very British film, with a well known lead actor - Ken Stott, fresh from success in BBC's Messiah - which has received barely a peep of pre-publicity. Why is this? I suspect it might be because a big gun like Guy Ritchie isn't at the helm, but you will be pleased to hear that it isn't because the film is uninteresting, or has nothing to say. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At first, it seems to be little more than a join-the-dots scam movie in a sub Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels vein. Spivs, the film would initially have us believe, come in two shapes, the very smart and the very stupid, but whichever category, they are jolly good fun and worth a laugh.

Stott is in Arthur Daley mode, as Jack - the smart one - with a younger sidekick Stevie (Nick Moran), who is like a son to him. His team also features Goat (Dominic Monaghan) - the stupid one, only involved because of family ties - and Jenny (Kate Ashfield) - another smart cookie, with more ambition than is good for her.

Even the opening credits feature a definition of "spiv" as "a man, esp a flashily dressed one, living from shady dealings". But you shouldn't take everything too literally as this film has something to say and doesn't mind slipping into darker recesses to say it. Everything zips along at a brisk and comedic pace for the first half hour, with an elaborate scam to rip off a load of smuggled goods being set up. Stott cheerfully cons yet another stupid spiv (Paul Kaye) and Jack Dee gets to play the easy mark. However, things turn sour when the smuggled goods turn out, not to be perfume or fags, but something much more sinister, opening the door to a much blacker film about the darker side of conmen and the state of the nation.

It becomes quite grim and, although by no means perfect, uses the genre expectations to con the audience as well. Stott is terrific and it's great to see him playing something other than a copper for a change, while Moran and Ashfield also have roles to get their teeth into. The only weak link is Dee. While very personable on one level, he doesn't do fear well, which is a shame, since his raison d'etre hangs on capturing that emotion.

Director Colin Teague occasionally lets the film stray into sentimentality, which is particularly jarring once the violence kicks in, but on the whole this is an accomplished offering on, what must have been, a very low budget. If it had been a made-for-television drama, rather than a cinematic release, TV critics would be heaping plaudits on its head.

Although it is another one of those "Cockerney" films, presumably designed so that American audiences can "get the accent", there is something nice about watching something so peculiarly British.

Where else are you going to hear anyone called "soppy bollocks" on celluloid this year?

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2004
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Cockney con men bite off more than they can chew.
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Mimmo **

Director: Colin Teague

Writer: Mike Loveday, Colin Teague, Gary Young

Starring: Ken Stott, Nick Moran, Kate Ashfield, Linda Bassett, Dominic Monaghan, Jack Dee, Nadia Ward, Christos Zenonos, Roshan Seth, Tamer Hassan, Rita Ora

Year: 2004

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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