Circus

Just as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction inspired pale imitations in America, the success of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch in the U.K. seems to have spawned a cottage industry of British thrillers paying homage to Ritchie's hyper-stylish cheekiness. Of course, Ritchie himself seems inspired by Tarantino's work, and the fact that both writer-directors admit to being derivative of other filmmakers only complicates matters further. In any case, there's no denying the cinematic inspiration behind Circus, an atrocious new British action-comedy that combines the most questionable aspects of Tarantino and Ritchie's first films. Opening with a telltale sequence involving a hapless square getting his ear bitten by a colorful, wisecracking sadist, Circus stars John Hannah as a cold-blooded con man and killer who emerges as the film's most likable character only by default. Hired by Peter Stormare to kill his wife, Hannah becomes involved in a shadowy web of criminal behavior involving Stormare, sensitive henchman Tiny Lister, and a slew of hoods defined by one or two arbitrary quirks each. As Hannah's duplicitous wife, Famke Janssen ends up on the receiving end of most of the film's ugly misogyny, but no one is well served by the material except Fred Ward, who at least seems to enjoy himself as Janssen's ex-lover. The best Tarantino knockoffs (Thursday, The Boondock Saints) either bring something new to the material or compensate with abundant style or energy. Circus does neither, coasting along laboriously, powered only by its convoluted plot and endless sense of delight at its own secondhand cleverness. Awash in glib nihilism, empty ultra-violence, and more crosses and double-crosses than anyone could possibly care about, Circus is the cinematic equivalent of a lackluster tribute band, bashing out the notes and poses of a great act while capturing none of its spirit or soul.

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