Legacy -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- A would-be star-making vehicle crashes in "Legacy," Thomas Ikimi's stage-ish expedition into political paranoia that rests fully on the shoulders of Idris Elba. Muscular as those shoulders are, Elba can't invent convincing psychodrama where an underwritten script fails to -- and in the attempt, he chips away at the esteem he earned playing Stringer Bell in "The Wire." Elba's name may move some units on video, but distributors aren't likely to find it enough to justify a theatrical release.

Eighty percent of the film's budget appears to have been spent on the opening sequence, which is about the only thing shot away from the movie's one-room main set. We join Elba's Malcolm Gray and his black-ops crew (including "Wire" costar Clarke Peters) mid-mission, as their search for an arms-dealer's stash turns out to be an ambush.

Cut to months later, when Gray, having apparently escaped captivity after gruesome torture, moves into a seedy hotel room and sets up something of a base camp. If his mysterious requests to have everything delivered to his door are aimed at keeping a low profile, they fail -- soon Gray's fellow soldiers find him, and he invites others to visit, like an ex-fiancee (who, believing he was dead, married Gray's U.S. Senator brother) and a journalist who rightly suspects that brother to be hiding dark secrets. Dark as in "Dark Hammer Operations," the assassination squad Senator Gray ran and Malcolm is now prepared to expose.

But are those visits real? Midway through the picture, Gray starts experiencing moments of freakout that cast doubt on practically every encounter; by the movie's end, the reality of each scene is so much in question that we wonder why we should care what the characters do or say.

"Legacy" has the look and feel of a television production -- it might have built up some B-movie steam had writer/director Thomas Ikimi sent the scarred vet on a score-settling mission rather than delve exclusively into his psyche, but the faith cast and crew apparently have in Ikimi's story is misplaced: The script never moves beyond its building-block cliches to sell us on whatever it is -- guilt, fear, trauma -- that has pushed Gray down this path.

As a result, the scenes of inner turmoil on which Ikimi places increasing weight -- with Gray dousing his head in the sink, trying literally to shake away disturbing memories, and making interminable videotaped confessions -- play like bad acting-school exercises and help doom this apparent attempt to turn an up-and-coming actor into a full-blown star.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival
Production company: Black Camel
Cast: Idris Elba, Eamonn Walker, Monique Gabriella Curnen, Clarke Peters, Richard Brake, Julian Wadham
Director: Thomas Ikimi
Screenwriters: Thomas Ikimi
Executive producers: Idris Elba
Producers: Thomas Ikimi, Arabella Page Croft, Kieran Parker
Director of photography: Jonathan Harvey
Production designer: Gordon Rogers
Music: Mark Kilian
Costume designer: Harriet Edmonds
Editor: Richard Graham, Thomas Ikimi
Sales Agent: Thomas Ikimi
No MPAA rating, 92 minutes
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