Movie Review: Wasting the Cream of the Character Actor crop in “The Big Ugly”

 

“Good men do bad things,” the speech begins, promisingly enough. “And bad men do good things.”

And then, the punchline — “If I can’t stop a beast like him, what’s my purpose?”

The bloke delivering those lines is “geezer” tough guy Vinnie Jones, a British mob enforcer who’s telling his boss (Malcolm McDowell), that this West Virginia goon has killed his girlfriend, and by God he’s getting his pound of flesh for it.

It should be a high point in veteran screenwriter and director Scott Wiper’s “The Big Ugly.”

But there’s all this palaver that comes in between the cliches that open that monologue and the flinty finish to it. And there’s the dead weight at the heart of this West Virginia mob war movie. The flashes of B-movie action are but interruptions for the endless succession of long, pretentious C-movie speeches.

That’s probably how he rounded up the grizzled quartet of character heavies he built the movie around. Ron Perlman, playing a Mountaineer mineral tycoon, has several stump speeches about “losers” and their fetish for Confederate flags and “honoring” the land he wants to drill for oil on. Malcolm McDowell goes on about “loyalty” and such in his talkative moments with Perlman, whose oil scheme is the perfect place to park London mob money that needs laundering. Jones, whose character narrates this saga of “God, land and oil,” talks more than he’s verbalized in a score of other movies.

Only Bruce McGill, as the mostly-silent and lethal “fixer” for Perlman’s character, avoids soliloquies in a movie that could use a lot fewer of them.

It’s a ludicrous tale of mob molls and comely barmaids, of private jets and Big London money and the good ol’oil boy (Perlman) who describes himself in terms that make him the Al Gore of Big Petroleum.

Harris (McDowell) brings Neelyn (Jones) and Neelyn’s girlfriend (Lenora Crichlow) to “Wild, wonderful West Virginia” to close a deal and plug an associate.

Neelyn’s given to snorting coke and chasing it with bourbon, and is black-out drunk when the son (Brandon Sklenar) of Perlman’s big chief hits on Fiona (Crichlow), and she disappears.

Neelyn looks for her, and since he’s the sort that barmaids and bar owners (Joelle Carter) just give a truck and “Daddy’s old clothes” to, he finds out what happened to her.

But confronting “Junior” won’t be easy. Junior’s used to bullying and beating up his way through this corner of W. Va. Even if the “geezer” can hold his own, Junior has Daddy and a whole organization behind him.

The other Londoners have gone back to London.

Fists fly, then bullets. Threats are made, and promises.

“I’ll take care of it.”

Prettiest blonde in town Kara (Leven Rambin) gets caught between Junior and the Brits. And lurking in the wings is Milt (McGill, from “Lincoln” and “Animal House”). Don’t MAKE him have to pull the trigger.

Stupid scene follows bloated speech, all the way through to a finale set up to go off, but which fizzles like soggy fireworks. Precious few movies are set in Appalachia, and every one that doesn’t work makes it less likely we’ll soon see another.

I like the old guys in this one, and have tracked down each and every one of them at one point or another for “movie tough guy/character actor” interviews.

Wiper (“The Cold Light of Day,” a couple of direct-to-video “The Marine” sequels) didn’t have enough of a movie to justify rounding up this cast, these locations and this budget for. Simple as that.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, some sexual content and brief drug use

Cast: Vinnie Jones, Ron Perlman, Leven Rambin, Malcolm McDowell, Brandon Sklenar, Lenora Crichlow, Joelle Carter, Bruce McGill

Credits: Written and directed by Scott Wiper.  A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:46

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