Bigga Than Ben

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Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival.

EDINBURGH -- A low-budget comedy about two Russian louts on the make in London -- think "Eastern Promises" meets Richard Lester's "The Knack" -- "Bigga Than Ben" is a brisk miniature that normally be just another semi-obscure festival and small-screen item. The presence of "Prince Caspian" star and teen-pin-up-du-jour Ben Barnes, however, boosts chances of theatrical distribution in many territories. Catch is, the movie's target audience, rather like its scam-happy protagonists, are more likely to discover "Ben" via illicit downloads or pirated DVDs rather than ponying up at their local multiplexes.

Sporting scraggly stubble and a reasonably convincing Russky accent, Barnes is seldom off-screen as one half of a pair of draft-dodging, chain-smoking, self-described "Moscow scum." Nicknamed 'Cobakka' (Barnes) and 'Spiker' (Andrei Chadov), they make for engagingly cynical company as they arrive in Europe's richest, most bustlingly metropolitan capital. After hitting various tourist sites the aspiring capitalists soon realize that whatever these streets may be covered with, it certainly ain't gold.

A major plus is the picture's nifty evocation of 21st-century London: graffiti-strewn squalor alongside large areas of tantalizing opulence. This melting-pot of races and cultures tests and ultimately erodes the nasty prejudices of our amusingly verbose "heroes.: It's commendable that writer/director Suzie ('S A') Halewood doesn't soft-pedal their knee-jerk racism, adding an unexpectedly hard, envelope-pushing edge to the humor in the early stages.

Indeed proceedings move along at a disarmingly frenetic clip till halfway, fizzed up with all manner of visual flourishes and self-referentially post-modern narration. Ambitiously shading from this appealingly jaunty larkiness into darker territory involving death and hard drugs proves a mis-step, however, and the picture starts running out of gas some way before the credits start rolling (conspicuously slowly) at the 75-minute mark. More calling-card than finished article, this may prove a minor footnote in Barnes's career, while yet another Ben, feature-debuting cinematographer Ben Moulden, whose grittily classy HD lensing provides consistent pleasures, likewise looks set for much 'bigga' things.


Production company: Altadena Films.
Cast: Ben Barnes, Andrei Chadov, Ovidiu Matesan, Andrew Byron, Jeff Mirza. Director: S A Halewood. Screenwriter: S A Halewood. Executive producer: Michael Conway, Richard Conway. Producer: Liz Holford. Director of photography: Ben Moulden. Production designer: Damien Creagh. Music: Paul E Francis. Costume designer: Liv Murton. Editors: James Smith-Rewse, Jamie Trevill. Sales Agent: Altadena Films, London.
No rating, 82 minutes.

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