cast: Hugh O’Conor, Mark Benton, Faye Dunaway, Michelle Ryan, and Liz Smith

writer director: David Howard

92 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
High Fliers DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Mark West

Johnny ‘Flick’ Taylor (Hugh O’Conor) is a stuttering loner, obsessed with Sally (played as a young girl by Hayley Angel Wardle, and later by Julia Foster), living only to dance in the Palace, in the dockside town of Hobbs End (which might or might not be in Wales, but certainly isn’t near to Quatermass’ pit!). When his attempts to ask her are thwarted by Creeper Martin, a knife-fight ensues (‘Flick’ is so-called because he carries a knife) and blood is spilt. Flick escapes with Sally in his little red Hillman Minx, but crashes into the dock waters and only Sally gets out alive.

Forty years later, his car is found and taken to the impound yard. By chance, the night-watchmen is one of the bullies from the Palace, who’s listening to a local pirate rockabilly station and the music re-animates Flick, who decides to kill all of those who made his life a misery and finally get that kiss and dance from Sally. To help the local police – in the form of Detective Sergeant Miller (Mark Benton) – the town is lucky to be in the midst of a cop-swap, entertaining the forthright – and one-armed – Lieutenant McKenzie (Faye Dunaway), from their twin town of Memphis.

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If that preceding paragraph didn’t make much sense, I apologise, but welcome to the sometimes-neon-glow world of Flick. I think, in the end, your enjoyment of this will depend entirely on whether you accept it as a living cartoon (which it sometimes tries to be) or as a horror-drama (which it sometimes tries to be). A Welsh production, part funded by the UK Lottery and starring a cream of British talent (including Terence Rigby, in his last film, playing the adult Creeper Martin), I really wanted to like this and I did, for the most part, but the film itself often makes that less than easy.

It’s highly stylised but the look isn’t maintained, which can be jarring. Sometimes it really works, especially the use of comic-book panels to show sequences that (I presume) would have been prohibitively expensive to film, but the inconsistency lets it down (and makes the little karaoke bit seem very much out of place later on). When Flick takes his first few breaths, it’s represented by a green CGI puff of smoke, but the filmmakers quickly forget about that, though they don’t forget to swathe his car in a red mist (an eerie effect that works well) or show musical notes when the radio’s on (a touch I liked).

There are other niggles too (why does the light in Ma’s hall swing constantly, what colour palette are we aiming for, why don’t any of the ‘sets’ feel ‘real’?) and it’s deliberate disassociation from the real world is heightened by having Faye Dunaway as the cop-swap from Memphis, with Miller always referring to her as ‘lootenent’, which jars each time he says it. She also manages to stop the film dead, midway through, with a wonderful Elvis-based anecdote that, as charming as it is, is completely out of place. The Creeper scenes, especially those in the club and also with Julia Foster, bring to mind gangster flicks from the 1970s and you almost wish they’d go in that direction, then we go back to the day-glo Flick and all the previous hard work goes out of the window.

The acting quality varies – old hands Foster and Rigby have the gravitas but not much to do and Mark Benton makes a decent stab at his under-written role. Liz Smith appears to be making her part up on the spot and there was at least one occasion where she looked at the camera (as if waiting for her cue), whilst Faye Dunaway throws everything at her role (but she looks very much like Mickey Rourke now and the talent she displayed so keenly in the 1960s and 1970s appears almost all gone). Hugh O’Conor does a pretty good job, managing to inject some real pathos into the character (especially towards the end of the film where, as his condition worsens, his eyes seem to grow more luminous) and it would have been nice to have seen more of him without the make-up. Michelle Ryan has the least luck, portraying Creepers and Sally’s daughter Sandra as an 18-year-old (which she clearly isn’t – and which also raises the question of why would the Martins have waited 30 years to have a child?), who effectively kicks the climax of the film into gear by going to her dad’s club, when she’s been expressly told not to go out at all.

There are plus points – Richard Hawley as the pirate radio DJ gets some great lines in voiceover and a wonderful little sequence with Dunaway; the soundtrack is nicely put together – but these are hidden by the film trying desperately to be something that it’s not. If you’re making a little Brit-film in Wales, why not embrace that? With limited budgets, you can’t compete with glossy Hollywood product, so why bother trying?