It’s unlikely that this year will see a more memorable introduction for a protagonist than the one accorded to Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) in the black comedy that bears his name. Looking directly into the camera, Dom delivers a lengthy monologue about the exquisite nature of his genitalia, though that’s not the nomenclature he prefers. It should be studied like a work of art, he insists. Schools should be named after it. Comparisons to a cheetah are made (“sleek and dangerous”), as well as volcano analogies in which semen plays the role of hot lava. All the while, Dom, though seen only from the pecs up, is clearly naked and very likely, judging from his occasional hand movements below the frame, being blown. Meanwhile, bars in a window visible behind him suggest that he’s in prison. It’s a hilariously demented greeting from a character whose egomania, volatility, and reckless disregard for propriety define him, and if the movie as a whole isn’t quite as fascinating as he is, that’s not so terrible. He can mostly carry it.
Not long after giving this speech, Dom gets sprung from the joint, where he’s spent 12 years keeping his mouth shut in order to protect the crime boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir), for whom he was working when he was arrested while working as a safecracker. Mr. Fontaine owes him a lot of cash for his silence and loyalty, and Dom immediately heads to St. Tropez with best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) in order to collect. Unable to avoid continually insulting his host, however, he winds up embroiled in a long series of misadventures, each one complicated by his own inability to exercise impulse control, though Dickie does his best to help smooth things over. As the film progresses, its focus gradually shifts to the adult daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), with whom Dom has long been estranged, and it starts to look as if his love for her will be his salvation if anything will—even though he can’t stomach the discovery that she’s seeing a black man (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) with whom she’s had a child (Jordan Nash).
That’s a disappointingly mushy direction for this scabrous comedy to take, and writer-director Richard Shepard (whose 2005 film The Matador, starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, is a terrific little sleeper) doesn’t manage the transition terribly well, turning Dom into a different person as needs require. Until that happens, though, Dom Hemingway is often ghoulishly funny, with Law, who put on weight for the role and plays up his receding hairline, turning in a larger-than-life performance unlike any he’s given before. So confident is Dom of his own awesomeness that at one point he even agrees to wager his beloved cheetah-dick that he can open a state-of-the-art electronic safe in less than 10 minutes, despite having been in prison for the last dozen years; if he fails, the safe’s vindictive owner (Jumayn Hunter) gets to amputate his pride and joy with a switchblade. This riotous scene, which somehow seems to involve Dom humping the safe (and which has a truly unexpected conclusion), ensures all by itself that Dom Hemingway, who spends the movie proudly repeating his own name again and again, will carve out a small place for himself in film history, even if his cock never does manage to win the Nobel Peace Prize.