Imagine a Guy Ritchie movie (i.e. Snatch or Lock, Stock, etc.) directed with just a bit more restraint ... and you'd get Matt Vaughn's Layer Cake. Pare down the flash-factor by one more layer and you'd probably get something like Malcolm Needs' Charlie. The filmmakers seem to be shooting for something akin to "Sexy Beast meets The Krays" -- and succeed only in periodic fits and starts.
Pop star turned actor Luke Goss stars as real-life London gangleader Charlie Richardson, a ruthless and single-minded criminal who used merciless torture tactics to terrorize his enemies and keep his friends in line ... or did he? Needs opts to tell his tale in a flashback formation; the film opens with Charlie on trial for a variety of vicious crimes, and as the legal proceedings move on, we frequently flash back to Charlie's earlier (and frequently horrific) exploits.
The back-and-forth approach works only slightly well, as it's tough to keep tabs on the background material as the trial framework frequently contradicts what we just saw happen. It's left undetermined as to whether Charlie truly committed all these terrible deeds -- or if the whining witnesses are just making the whole story up. And if you're watching a movie in which one-half may or may not be entirely fictional, it's tough to get a grasp on the reality of Charlie's story.
But as a somewhat slick and occasionally exciting crime flick, Charlie works more than well enough to warrant a rental -- if you're not already sick to death of the Brit Crime Flick, that is.
Sincere points due to Luke Goss for his magnetic, energetic, and pretty damn intimidating lead performance. I cannot comment on Mr. Goss' pop music, as I've never heard it, but the guy's clearly got some acting chops. He's got the glowering intensity of Jason Statham and the strangely-creepy good looks of Jude Law.
Considering that Goss shows up in practically every scene in Charlie's running time, it goes a long way to making the flick a decent amount of fun ... on the surface anyway. One stumbling block is that, aside from Steven Berkoff (who plays Charlie Sr.), not one of the supporting actors make a dent in the movie. Perhaps they're are just too many random stooges and henchmen running around, but it's pretty tough to remember which guy's the stoolie and which guy's the sidekick. Aside from Goss and Berkoff, it's just a bunch of mean-looking British guys who love profanity and the way in which toes will react when twisted with pliers.
Although directed with a strong sense of restrained style and color, Charlie fails to connect on a personal level. You might be fascinated by mean ol' Charlie, but it's tough to say whether you'll actually care about what happens to him.
Video: A more-than-decent widescreen (1.78:1) anamorphic transfer, which capably showcases the director's visual flair.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. A fine aural presentation, all things considered.
Extras: The theatrical trailer for Charlie, which you'd have seen only if you live in the UK.
Less flashy and overblown than many of its contemporaries, yet sketchy and impersonal enough to keep you entirely at arm's length, Charlie is a well-constructed but cold bio-pic that should please fans of the genre ... but very few others.