The specter of “Pulp Fiction” looms over “EverybodyLovesSunshine,” an urban crime drama set in gang-dominated northern England that never manages to be more than third-rate Tarantino. While pic is occasionally visually inventive and has a noteworthy sound and music track, it’s a narrative and dramatic calamity. There’s lots of flash and violence but little of substance here, and the acting — with the exception of a too-brief turn by David Bowie — is seldom strong enough to make the characters credible. Pic is receiving limited release from Lions Gate, but only the most testosterone-driven fans and Bowie acolytes can be expected to turn out.
Opening sequence, with its sparse dialogue, is striking: Disquieting sound effects and alternating extreme close and long shots impart a jarring sense of spatial disorientation that protags Terry (Goldie) and Ray (writer-helmer Andrew Goth) feel upon their release from prison.
But Terry and Ray, cousins, lifelong friends and erstwhile gangmates, have different goals. Terry wants to regain control of his gang, which he entrusted during his prison stint to the cool, efficient, ultra-smooth Bernie (Bowie). Ray wants to go legit.
As Ray starts to explore life beyond the gang, he falls for Clare (Rachel Shelley), a comely and assertive young woman who reawakens his passion and helps him rediscover his tender side. And Ray spends some happy moments with Leon (Clint Dyer), a friend who chose family and fatherhood over gang violence.
By contrast, Terry re-enters gang life with a vengeance. He makes a fortune selling drugs to kids and strengthens his arsenal with dozens of semi-automatic weapons. He’ll terrorize anyone who crosses him, especially a rival gang run by a group of enigmatic Chinese. Tension builds between Bernie and Terry, who the former insists is now a loose canon.
He’s right: Terry, a walking ad for the Seven Deadly Sins, is loyal only to himself. In one of his lowest blows, when Terry sees that Clare reps Ray’s weakness, he kidnaps and tortures her. And so Ray’s fight to get out becomes an internal struggle to get even, culminating in an overblown, somewhat predictable blood bath finale.
Goldie’s Terry is a scary looking figure, to be sure. With his strong physique, bald head and enormous mouth gleaming menacingly with gold-capped teeth, he makes Jaws from the Bond films look like a pussycat. But you never get a sense of what’s going on underneath; Goldie (a British music star) gives no indication of what lies at the root of Terry’s psychosis, and because he betrays no inner conflict he comes off as a wooden caricature of evil.
Goth fares somewhat better as Ray, but neither lead approaches the creepy, buttoned-down intensity of Bowie’s Bernie. His character at least has something to work with: a closeted homosexuality that he desperately wants to keep hidden.
Nicky Matthew’s percussive and rap-inflected score conveys a raw urban energy , and Julian Morson’s lensing gives the proceedings a dark, edgy look. For American audiences, much of the dialogue will be hard to understand: It may ring authentic, but the language is punctuated by difficult-to-decipher regional slang.