Like its soundtrack’s “grime” music — a dark, fast-rapping strain of Brit hip hop — U.K. gangsta pic “Rollin With the Nines” draws heavily on U.S. urban crime pics and classic blaxploitationers while speaking with a distinctively inner-city London burr. Hard-edged drama by sophomore helmer Julian Gilbey (“Reckoning Day”) has a credible tang of the streets, despite rough patches in thesping and script departments. More amoral and violent than recent ‘hood parable “Bullet Boy,” pic looks to skew male upon April 21 Blighty bow, roll into niche bookings offshore, and enlist a posse of fans on ancillary.
Moving against the grain of pics like “Hustle & Flow” or “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” core characters in “Rollin” are downwardly mobile, not up. Just on the verge of breaking into the music business, the members of rap outfit Time Served — Finny (Vas Blackwood), Rage (Roffem Morgan) — are drawn back into the underworld when the group’s third member, Too Fine (Simon Webbe), is murdered in a drive-by shooting.
Too Fine’s sister, Hope (Naomi Taylor), is raped by Temper (Patrick Regis), her brother’s killer, and takes sawed off shotgun revenge. She also persuades Finny, Rage and drug-dealer friend Pushy (Robbie Gee) to kill the other members of Temper’s crew in a messy nightclub hit, so they can take over their cocaine distribution network.
With Hope at the helm, the new business thrives, but police detectives Andy White (Terry Stone) and Newmyer (George Calil) gradually close in.
Screenplay by helmer and his brother William smartly muddies the waters by making White a bent cop. In old-school, ’70s style, no one is entirely good or bad, just varying shades of desperate and/or greedy.
With her Nubian-princess presence, Taylor’s Hope dimly conjures up a young Pam Grier in her Coffy and Foxy Brown years. Director Julian Gilbey seems to be working round Taylor’s inexperience by getting her to look impassive and unreadable. But after a slightly shaky start, her perf grows.
Similarly, most of the cast, particularly the Caucasian actors playing cops, deliver dialogue in a numbed monotone that’s sometimes effective, and sometimes sounds like a clunky parody of police speak. Most thesps are known to Brit viewers from long-running soaps like “EastEnders,” “The Bill” and “Holby City,” and haven’t quite shrugged off TV acting ticks.
Still, pic has enough panache to compensate. There’s even a niftily-edited car chase (rare in Brit cinema) with witty touches.
HD lensing by Ali Asad is crisp and works the medium’s usually flat colors to its own advantage, creating a noirish palette. Non-British viewers may be baffled by some of the slang and a few characters’ thick, Caribbean-inflected accents.