The signs are all there — a lurid underworld filled with over-the-top violent “villains,” thick London accents, bits of rhyming and pithy one-liners flung about by characters named Rawbone, Hard Eight, Tick Tock and “Not Now, Nigel.”
That punchdrunk title? “Knuckledust?” Some writer-director bloke’s lost himself in Guy Ritchieland for a few weeks punching this one out.
That bloke would be actor turned director James Kermack, and he’s conjured up a bloody, gruesomely violent and ultimately nonsensical story of a bareknuckle “club” where the super-rich wager on assorted brawlers who fight to the death, and which the cops are about to bust up.
It’s got pacing problems and (serious) coherence issues to go along with the Ritchie touches and yet another visual homage to the epic corridor kill-off in the Korean classic “Oldboy.”
Kermack goes for “Sin City” visual cues — neon-lit titles ID the many assorted characters in an opening, where stunning skinny biker and boss Serena (Camille Rowe, whose line readings remind one that directors go deaf in casting sessions) marches into the Church of Herod, her pricey underground fight club just as Tombstone (Guillaume Delaunay) is finishing off the last foe in a mass murderous gladiatorial punchout.
The next bout? It’s got to go a certain way. Hard Eight (Moe Dunford) needs to lose. Serena’s hiring requirements are “hard fighting men, men nobody will miss.” Hard Eight, aka Brody, has somebody who will miss him. Serena will have her killed by hitmen Happy (veteran character actor Phil Davis) and Hot Lips (Matthew Stathers) if Hard Eight doesn’t take the fall.
“You die, or she dies.”
Hint — it’d be a mighty short thriller if a character you went to all the trouble to name “Hard Eight” buys it in the opening act.
“Knuckledust” is about Hard Eight’s revenge, and the cops — bossed around by Kate Dickie and Jaime Winstone (Yeah, she’s Ray’s daughter.) — who’re raiding this operation in an effort to bring down the richies luring veterans off the street and making them fight to the death.
There are some furious fights, and a few funny moments — such as SWAT showing up with the wrong equipment to break down the door.
“We didn’t bring the ram, ma’am.”
Dave Bibby, as a manic sweater-vested tech nerd Hooper, stands out among the many villains and villains hunting the villains. And Parisian Sebastien Foucan has the tastiest trash-talk, delivered in a French-accented purr.
“I have an ear for guns. They whisper to me…This one is saying, ‘SHOOT me, I’m full.”
Irish actor Dunford acquits himself well here. He’s got the right growl and build for this. He was in “Black ’47,” “The Dig” and TV’s “Vikings,” and heck, you can even hear his voice in Netflix’s animated holiday “Angela’s Christmas Wish.” But you shouldn’t. It’s lame.
“Knuckledust” seriously lost the plot — or made me lose it — late in the second act and for pretty much all of the third. But there’s enough here that maybe you figure Kermack will come closer to the mark next time.
More punchy punch-lines, more tight shots (comedy and violence are best delivered in close-up), quicker cutting.
Guy Ritchie’s got to pass the mantle to somebody, after all.
MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Moe Dunford, Camille Rowe, Kate Dickie, Philip Davis, Jaime Winstone, Gethin Anthony, Sébastien Foucan and Dave Bibby
Credits: Scripted and directed by James Kermack. A Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:45