Small Time Obsession

A loose amalgam of relationships and petty crime among a bunch of young people in London's Polish community, "Small Time Obsession" is a promising debut by writer-director Piotr Szkopiak that doesn't know when to quit. Some good performances are dissipated by an overly discursive script that can't sustain the dramatic baggage loaded on it. Small-time business and some TV play are in order for this low-budgeter, with Szkopiak put on watch for future assignments.

With:
With: Alex King, Juliette Caton, Jason Merrells, Oliver Young, Richard Banks, Kirsten Parker, Andrew Tiernan, Geoff Lawson, Giles Ward, Jurek Jarosz, Teresa Nowakowska, Leonard Trusty, Danny Bowers, Elly Fairman, Esme Eliot. (English and Polish dialogue.)

A loose amalgam of relationships and petty crime among a bunch of young people in London’s Polish community, “Small Time Obsession” is a promising debut by writer-director Piotr Szkopiak that doesn’t know when to quit. Some good performances are dissipated by an overly discursive script that can’t sustain the dramatic baggage loaded on it. Small-time business and some TV play are in order for this low-budgeter, with Szkopiak put on watch for future assignments.

Group of friends, all children of Polish emigrants, comprises intense, Byronic-looking Michael (Alex King), who works in his dad’s deli but is more interested in training racing greyhounds; unpredictable Chris (Jason Merrells), an ambitious, minor-league crook; caring Steve (Oliver Young), an orphan who’s into classic cars; and wired John (Richard Banks), a wannabe composer with a troubled home life. Egged on by Chris, they do nickel-and-dime jobs, like robbing fruit machines at the local Polish club.

Chris’ laissez-faire relationship with longtime g.f. Ali (Juliette Caton) is put under strain when she announces she’s pregnant — much to the chagrin of Michael, who’s been carrying a torch for the blond looker ever since he can remember. Unknowingly, he’s secretly adored by Ali’s best pal, Jackie (Kirsten Parker).

Chris is offered a simple job — taking possession of stolen goods — by middle-ranking crook Geordie (Geoff Lawson), who’s trying to curry favor with local gangster Page (Andrew Tiernan). When the job almost goes awry, tensions among the group of friends start to boil over, with Michael confessing his love to Ali and she torn between him and Chris. Meanwhile, Page tells Geordie to teach the incompetent youngsters a lesson.

Szkopiak takes pains to describe his characters and plot in fine detail, as well as hook them into a mildly criminal subplot with its own dynamics. At two hours, with a love story, buddy drama, crime yarn and cross-generational study all jostling for attention, the focus simply gets too fuzzy, especially in what is basically a modest indie effort. There’s some interesting material here, but it’s spread way too thin to hold attention on the bigscreen.

King and Caton have the looks, and Merrells (from BBC’s “Casualty” series) has the personality, to go on to bigger things, and casting in general is fine, aside from an overly theatrical Tiernan as the cigar-chewing gangster Page. Grainy, on-a-budget lensing suits the realistic style, and Szkopiak’s editing is technically smooth within individual sequences.

Despite some subtitled scenes with Polish elders, and a scene of a Polish wedding, little is made of pic’s ethnic setting, except as background color. (Pic runs 20 minutes before the viewer is even told what the setting is.) Story could take place in any South London community.

Small Time Obsession

U.K.

Production: A Guerilla Films release of a Solo Films production, in association with the Seventh Twelfth Collective. Produced by Piotr Szkopiak. Executive producer, David Nicholas Wilkinson. Co-producers, Ian David Diaz, Julian Boote. Directed, written by Piotr Szkopiak. Additional script material, Ian David Diaz.

Crew: Camera (color), Niels Reedtz Johansen; editor, Szkopiak; music, Martin Bell; music supervisors, David Alldridge, Craig Blake-Jones; production designer, Vince Raj; art directors, Lucy Savage, Nick Frew; costume designers, Anabel Campbell, Silvana Sacco; sound (DTS Stereo), John Carr; assistant director, Diaz. Reviewed at Mr. Young's preview theater, London, June 9, 2000. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: With: Alex King, Juliette Caton, Jason Merrells, Oliver Young, Richard Banks, Kirsten Parker, Andrew Tiernan, Geoff Lawson, Giles Ward, Jurek Jarosz, Teresa Nowakowska, Leonard Trusty, Danny Bowers, Elly Fairman, Esme Eliot. (English and Polish dialogue.)

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