A cross-tracks Romeo and Juliet story, set among south London rappers, “Life & Lyrics” has plenty of the latter but is a tad short on the former. Slickly mounted production, wallpapered with hip-hop music from beginning to end, largely gets by on technique, disguising a thin script and, apart from newcomer Louise Rose, only adequate perfs. With a heavy push, this could scare up some business among target auds but isn’t strong enough to cross over to a broader demographic.
The Romeo here is Danny, played with an easy charm but not much oomph by Ashley Walters, better known in the music world as Asher D, from the London hip-hop collective So Solid Crew, and in the film world for his lead perf in “Bullet Boy.”
Danny works by day in a specialist record store and by night as a club DJ, meanwhile dreaming of being a music producer. He’s also de facto head of Motion Crew, a group of rappers that includes best friend Fable (Christopher Steward), bearded Preach (Akemnji Ndifornyen), sassy Sista Twista (Cat Simmons) and token whitie Blitz (Beau Baptist).
The Juliet is Carmen (Rose, formerly lead vocalist in girl band Precious), whom Danny falls for in the street one day. A middle-class, well-educated young woman with a good singing voice, she’s taken to studying law instead of pursuing a musical career.
As Danny and Carmen gradually get acquainted, Carmen is urged by Money Man (Karl Francis) to switch her career to singing, and to perform with Money Man’s group, Hard Cash Crew, at an upcoming competition. The fact that she’s the cousin of Money Man’s right-hand man makes it hard to refuse.
However, Hard Cash Crew is the bitterest rival of Motion Crew, and Danny’s relationship with Carmen is already putting a severe strain on his friendship with Fable. Everything comes to a head at the Mic Masters finals.
Thanks to burnished, widescreen lensing by John Daly, and the mobile but not rushed cutting of Tracey Wadmore-Smith, pic gives impression there’s more going on onscreen than there actually is. Despite the luminosity of Rose’s looks, and some other colorful characters, the dialogue is weak and the storyline simplistic to an un-dramatic degree.
For starters, there’s no sense of the two music groups’ rivalry, nor any tension generated by it. And apart from a neatly staged but very token backstory given to Fable — who tracks down his white mother — none of the characters, including the two leads, have any depth.
This won’t matter to auds familiar with the main actors and in tune with the U.K. rap scene. But even they may balk at one sequence where Danny and Carmen both take a London tour bus past the Houses of Parliament and over Waterloo Bridge. Pic feels like a sanitized, London-set hip-hopper largely made to appeal to foreign viewers, without too much Anglo grunge getting in the way.
For the record, original director Lexi Alexander was replaced just before principal photography started by current helmer Richard Laxton, making his feature bow after a dozen years in TV.