Movie Review: Winstone, Meaney, Huston and Harewood try not to drop “The Hot Potato” (2012)

Here’s a little Brit bauble that got by me, and you and most everybody else when it popped out briefly back in 2012.

“The Hot Potato” was “inspired by a” true story about a stolen lump of uranium and all the trouble a couple of mugs — and the thugs they consult — have unloading it in the late 1960s.

It’s got Ray Winstone and a stand-out turn by his daughter Lois, along with Colm Meaney as a fight-fixing mobster, Jack Huston (“Ben-Hur,”American Hustle”), David Harewood (“Blood Diamond”) the wonderful John Lynch (“The Secret Garden,” “Best,” “In the Name of the Father”) and veteran bit player Derren Nesbitt, who played many a Nazi in his day.

And while this caper comedy isn’t a laugh riot, it’s damned funny at times and generally wry and daft in tone, a Cockney-accented “Hot Rock,” for those who remember that ’72 burglary-goes-bad comedy with Redford, Segal, Liebman and Mostel.

Redoubtable Ray plays Kenny, who runs a low-rent metal casting/metalwork shop that’s slowing going to seed when a young mate (Huston) shows up with a fancy and locked chrome shipping case he’s nicked at a salvage job after a fire or gas explosion or something.

They get it open, and see all these lead pellets surrounding something even heavier than the lead — “sort of a baked potato with ears.” They try chiseling it and sawing it. Not gold. Harder. Finally they find somebody who can tell them what the metal is, at least.

It’s uranium.

A couple of running gags in the movie are the fact that Kenny and Danny have to be reminded how “dangerous” this stuff is. They never give voice to what this stuff is used for. Have you ever tried to sell something you don’t dare take out of a lead casing, something used to make nuclear bombs?

It takes over half the movie for somebody to figure out, “get a Geiger counter.” Maybe that’ll help with the sale.

Kenny calls the shadiest guy he knows, Harry (Meaney). And Harry warns him and warns him again and then sets him up with underworld kingpins, “The Twins,” both played by Lynch. They aren’t really The Krays, but that’s who they’re meant to be.

The twins, seriously dangerous men with serious connections, set up a meeting. And being hardballers, they start our story down a comically torturous path, as the price they try to wrangle keeps going up and this portly, shifty German, Fritz (Nesbitt) they’re working with keeps playing the angles.

Kenny, Danny and bookkeeper Carole (Lois Winstone), Danny’s girlfriend, find themselves galivanting from Brussels to Ostend to Luxembourg to Rome.

“The Vatican? Where the Pope lives?”

“That’s good. Someone with a bit of money, at least!”

The running gags are light and plentiful here. Nobody, not the alleged CIA buyer (Harewood), not the various Germans, the Italian or Israeli, ever shows up with a bag of cash and a willingness to close the deal.

The mobsters beat up Kenny and Danny, who burn through cash buying plane tickets or fixing Danny’s 1961 Jaguar — which keeps getting shot up as double-crosses and chases become part of the adventure of it all.

Writer-director Tim Lewiston, who usually works in sound design (he also directed last year’s “There’s Always Hope”) gives the most complete character arc, and many of the funniest lines, to Winstone’s daughter, and she delivers. Carole goes from lovesick office manager to pistol-packing mama like ones she’s seen “in the pictures.”

“She thinks she’s Emma-Bloody-PEEL!”

And Nesbitt, finding a giggle every time there’s food in sight as he’s playing a glutton who literally shoves everything into his face, camps it up just enough to delight.

“Eye zink ve are beink FOLLOWED,” he mutters, at the wheel of the Jag in the Belgian countryside. Not to worry, “I used to fly Messerschmidt 109s! Zis car iss a BALLERINA in mein heart!”

Winstone the elder is deadpan, a thick-accented Cockney showing us how out of his depth Kenny is by every thing he doesn’t know about uranium and geopolitics. That mysterious would-be buyer they just met?

“MOSSAD!”

“I fought ‘is name was ‘arry!”

The “Hot Rock” comparison should tell you this is a tad old fashioned, with “Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “James-bleedin’-BOND” jokes, dated chases and a lot of stumbling to and fro without anybody getting any closer to paying up and collecting the goods.

I’m guessing the choppiness of the narrative slowed this to a crawl in theaters, never letting the picture get up a full head of steam. But streaming lessens such flaws, and good players stand out no matter how the story is unfolding around them.

If you’re a Winstone and Meaney fan, it’s got just enough of what they do best to get by, even if Winstone’s daughter and a guy who supported himself for decades by clicking his heels and demanding “Vere are your papers?” upstage them.

Rating: TV-14, violence, some profanity

Cast: Ray Winstone, Jack Huston, David Harewood, Lois Winstone, Derren Nesbitt, John Lynch and Colm Meaney.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Tim Lewiston. A FilmRise release on Tubi, Amazon, etc.

Running time: 1:38

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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