Review by Sean Boelman
Although the Western and mob genres may seem like they are conducive to a syncretism, filmmaker Scott Wiper isn’t able to take advantage of that promise with his new thriller The Big Ugly. Mildly amusing, if a huge mess, the movie benefits from a strong cast, though they are underused by a mediocre script.
The film follows the enforcer of a London mob who is stationed in West Virginia to ensure that an oil deal goes according to plan when his girlfriend goes missing, sending him on a quest for revenge that results in relations between the two sides falling apart. This blend of tropes is initially intriguing, but soon loses much of its charm once it becomes clear that the movie won’t be doing anything particularly edgy.
Much of the first hour plays out like a relatively straightforward but still mostly effective crime drama, only for the final act to head into more generic and underwhelming revenge territory. Ultimately, one of the biggest issues with the film is that there are so many moving parts in the first hour, and yet they are mostly abandoned and streamlined heading into the final thirty minutes.
Another frustrating thing about the movie is that it doesn’t seem to trust the audience to stay invested in the story without carnage, hence why the final thirty minutes devolves into one big action sequence. Unfortunately, the beginning of the film (which is more character-driven) is far more compelling.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Wiper’s script is that the audience will connect with the protagonist. Granted, the villains are much more archetypal, but the hero of the story is given a legitimately compelling arc. Vinnie Jones’s lead performance goes a long way in making the character feel likable but not quite approachable.
The supporting cast is stacked with character actors, who range from enjoyable to watch to totally wasted. Arguably the biggest highlight is now-Emmy nominee Nicholas Braun in an integral sidekick role. Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman both have some good moments as the bosses of their respective gangs.
Additionally, Wiper attempts to infuse the movie with style even if it doesn’t always work. It seems that Wiper had a hard time of settling on how he wanted his film to look in relation to time. Some sequences feel slick and modern, while others feel pulled straight out of a Western. This back-and-forth may incite some mild cinematic whiplash, but shows effort on Wiper’s part.
The Big Ugly isn’t a great movie, but it is passable and has some very solid moments. Still, the strong cast assembled for the film can’t quite elevate this to be more than a forgettable genre mash-up.
The Big Ugly hits VOD on July 31.