Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Those Brits are at it again crafting the genre of film that they seem to do best, the multi character, multi thread gangster flick. One of the more interesting things about director Mark Hammond’s film is his rather eclectic cast which includes a couple of sports stars, a ancient rock star, a sizzling pop star and the guy who used to own Soul Glo Gerry curl products. Let you’re soouuuullll gloooooooww…..

Johnny (Vinnie Jones – ex-soccer star) is a tortured soul. A former Irish terrorist, he has been in hiding and on the run in London for some time now trying to live off the guilt of an explosion years ago that cost the life of a young woman. For Johnny, the desire is to be as low key as humanly possible, but he sure does live in an apartment building that has a lot peculiar activity. On the third floor is a Rastaman who goes by the name of, well, Ras (Lennox Lewis – ex heavyweight champion) who broadcast what appears to be an illegal radio show over unsecured airways, spouts Rasta theology and smokes a crap load of marijuana. On the first floor lives Rita (Samantha Mumba – pop star) an Irishwoman with a nasty heroin addiction and the girlfriend of small time Jamaican hood Julius (Eriq La Salle – Soul Glo owner) who uses the apartment to stash his cash and drugs and keeps Rita happy with a steady flow of smack.

Johnny’s already interesting life is about to get more interesting when his former handler in his former life, a man named Flynn (Patrick Bergin) busts out of jail with his new protégé terrorist in training by his side Michael (Lawrence Kinlan). Flynn needs a place to hide out and has tapped Johnny to give him some assistance since his previous contact and head of this terrorist organization, Jimmy (Roger Daltry – ancient rock star) seems to want the troublesome Flynn dead. So with nowhere else to turn Flynn crashes in on a reluctant Jimmy. Now Jimmy despises Flynn something awful but still seems to have some begrudging loyalty to the dude and takes him in with the

stipulation that he leave before nightfall. We all know that Flynn doesn’t plan to go anywhere because he still has big plans on blowing up stuff and this extremely dangerous dude has made a tenuous deal with the equally dangerous Julius that involves guns for Flynn and more drugs to sell for Julius. Johnny unfortunately is caught in the middle of all of this nonsense and he has fallen for Rita the heroin addict, which has placed him at odds with Julius. Flynn is on the other side and is about as untrustworthy as a dude can be and the ancient Rock Star would just like to see both of them removed from the gene pool.

‘Johnny Was’ was a pretty good film for the most part that found its strength in the quality of its characters and the actors playing those characters. The narrative was a bit of a retread as it featured the oft seen character who just wants to go straight, but no matter how hard he tries to get out ‘they keep pulling him back!’ but because the characters in the film were so colorful and reasonably unique, they made this well worn story line seem somewhat fresh.

Leading this motley crew of individuals is Vinnie Jones who with this film, and ‘The Riddle’ which he would star in the following year, is showing that he can play more than the monosyllabic ruffians that he played for the most part throughout his career. Jones plays Johnny not as a tough guy but as a loyal sensitive character attempting to do right by himself and those around him while trying to stay out of the trouble that seems to plague him wherever he goes. All of the actors actually were really good in their respective roles, with the most surprising being Lennox Lewis as the pot-smoking lyric spouting reggae spinning disk jockey who I didn’t understand a lick of what ever the hell he was talking about. But it sure sounded good.

There were a couple of shootouts and action sequences in ‘Johnny Was’ but they didn’t feel like they belonged in this kind of movie which was more or less a character driven, dialog driven kind of film as opposed to an action film. Nor were these sequences very realistic as guys with automatic machine guns continually missed targets standing right in front of them and then of course there was the ‘twist’ ending which again seemed out of place. Without giving the ending away it seemed that they built up the character of Johnny to a point where it didn’t seem realistic to me that he would take this particular course of action.

These quibbles aside, ‘Johnny Was’ was a very entertaining film that was well acted and well shot despite the relatively meager budget it was working with. If you’re looking at spending some quality time with some quality criminals, you might want to look into spending 90 or so minutes Johnny and them.

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