Film and TV

The Underbelly of Wales

The surreal concoction of farce, tragedy and go-to-hell defiance that put Trainspotting on the international movie map also permeates Kevin Allen's Twin Town. If this is some kind of trend, like, say, Hollywood's current bout of Tarantino Syndrome, it probably won't be long before audiences of all ages start separating the real from the fake. A little too clever for its own good, Twin Town walks the line.

Set in gray, working-class Swansea, South West Wales--a city that homeboy Dylan Thomas once described as "the graveyard of ambition"--this black comedy is crammed with crooked coppers, pot-addled car thieves, caches of cocaine, hip/snide references to American movies and mobs of disaffected twentysomethings who get drunk on Saturday night and fall into piles down at the local karaoke club. As in the smack-infested regions of Trainspotting, fashionable nihilism is the order of the day--expressed in slangy Welsh English so exotically accented (to U.S. ears, at least) that most of the time you wonder what the hell is going on.

This is just what the moviemakers had in mind. In case we have any doubts about that, director Allen has attached a winking little prologue (which turns out to be an epilogue) in which the dopey, dope-obsessed blond twins of the title, Julian and Jeremy Lewis (Llyr Evans and Rhys Ifans) find themselves awaiting release from a Moroccan jail--and the U.S. release of the movie we are about to see. They delight in the notion that American viewers probably won't be able to decipher their dialogue.

Like the rest of the film--which is relentless and a bit silly--this little deconstructionist joke is clever to a fault.

What to say of Twin Town's convoluted plot? We may as well begin with Bryn Cartwright (William Thomas), Swansea's leading roofing contractor and resident power broker. He sponsors the local rugby team, plays with toy race cars and, when he can find the time, engineers major drug deals with a terminally cynical cop named Terry (Dougray Scott), whose only ambition in the graveyard of ambition is to steal a lot of money and get away from the place. His crooked partner Greyo (Dorien Thomas) is satisfied with lesser scores.

The blustering Cartwright, whom even the immigrant waiters at the local curry joint recognize as a moron, calls his party pad "The Ponderosa," the first of the movie's many swipes at U.S. pop culture, and like many a film-noir chieftain, he's saddled with a sexually wayward daughter (Jenny Evans) who gives him fits. When the Lewis twins' burly father, Fatty Lewis (Huw Ceredig) falls off one of Cartwright's roofs and breaks his leg, the boss scoffs at the thieving boys' demand for insurance compensation, and the film dives headlong into a seriocomic tangle of revenge, botched counter-revenge and reasonably grisly counter-counter-revenge.

En route, Allen (who got his start making rugby documentaries) stuffs his film with Bullitt-style car chases, Bogey-style twists of criminal fate and--in case we're still missing the point--a bit of dog-for-a-dog justice in which a prized poodle named Fergie is decapitated like the movie mogul's horse in The Godfather. These things are meant to be jokey and, I suppose, vaguely acidic. But Allen and co-writer Paul Durden seem to be strangers to subtlety: Their idea of irony is to have their profoundly corrupt cop decline a nasty piece of night work because he wants to stay home and watch Serpico on the telly. Get it? Good cop, bad cop.

The manifold hipness of Twin Town--yes, the city is just as duplicitous as the Lewis boys, Cartwright and Terry--gives it a kind of sour, stubborn energy. Everybody in Swansea, including Cartwright's rebellious daughter and the Lewis twins' slatternly sister Adie (Rachel Scorgie), who works at a massage parlor, hates the place--hates the entire dying culture, in fact, almost as much as the demolished junkies of Trainspotting hate lame, tedious Edinburgh. When they're not nicking BMWs, toking on their bongs or (in the cop Terry's case) roughing up ten-year-olds in a marching band, Swansea's rudderless young citizens are expressing their rage and ennui by doing lines of coke in crowded toilets, urinating on each other or wrecking the old rugby pitch by driving over it in a stolen sports car.

Here is youthful defiance writ not very large--at least not until the goofy but mean Lewis twins, dim bulbs both whose IQs probably wouldn't add up to room temperature, come up with an uncommonly inventive plan for revenge against the man who's brought their father low. Come to think of it, Terry has some fairly decent murder plans himself. We're meant to smirk and admire the dark comic justice of it all.

If hip melancholy, hip mirth and in-your-face aggression--in huge portions--are your cups of tea, you may get through Twin Town without wondering if the script pages of this disjointed narrative didn't get shuffled a couple of times without anyone taking notice, or if sheer attitude is sufficient to a film make. Its loose-limbed, improvisational qualities speak of freedom, and its detached, low-life characters provide some of the fascinations we found over in Edinburgh last year. But you can't help thinking these guys are also winging it a little bit--that they, too, smoked a couple of joints and never quite knew (or cared) what might happen next when they turned the cameras on. Do they have plenty of nerve? Sure. Have they come up with the real thing? Decide for yourself.

Twin Town.
Screenplay by Kevin Allen and Paul Durden. Directed by Kevin Allen. With Dougray Scott, Llyr Evans, Rhys Ifans, Huw Ceredig, Rachel Scorgie and William Thomas.