Just when you thought the British gangster movie was dead and buried, comes Top Dog from director Martin Kemp. In a largely unidentified part of London, Billy Evans (played by Leo Gregory) is the alpha male in question, the ringleader of a gang of football supporters who take their loyalties to the extreme - coming into frequent clashes with rival gangs.
When Billy learns his pub landlord aunt and uncle have been paying protection money to an underworld figure, Mickey, he decides to intervene with disastrous consequences for pretty much everyone concerned. For Mickey is merely a footsoldier for an Irish "don", played with chilling aplomb by Vincent Regan. When Evans and his crew do over one of Mickey's nightclubs, he comes to the attention of the big man himself. From then on, it's only a matter of time before the violence Billy has dealt with for so long comes back to haunt him.
This is a boys' own world where women have very little to do. Every time we see Billy's wife Sam (played by Danielle Brent), she's either making dinner or giving him a cup of tea. That writer Dougie Brimson fails to create a three-dimensional character here is especially problematic. Lorraine Stanley as Julie, the wife of Billy's best friend, does an incredible job with little to go on and deserves to be commended for her compelling performance. Stanley and Regan are this film's only saving graces.
There are so many things wrong with Top Dog, it's difficult to know where to start. First of all, it's just too long. There are too many self-indulgent "geezer" scenes that add little to the story. It's as though Brimson hasn't watched a movie in the past ten years. Martin Kemp is an efficient director only whose skills are better suited to the small screen than the big one. The fight scenes when they come are just pointless, artlessly shot orgies of violence.
Billy is left distraught when Mickey's cohorts murder his best friend. But prior to this, we are given no real indication about the closeness of their relationship. Consequently, his death means nothing to the viewer. And, sure enough, moments after the killing, Brimson has a character express his sympathy for Billy only to have him reply, "Shit happens". Really?
When it comes to the film's pantomime ending, Brimson gives Regan a long, biblical passage to quote in the vein of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, without realising that you really need a Samuel L Jackson to get away with something like that.
At the end of the screening, I heard one journalist say, "Well, that's two hours of my life I'll never get back."
I'm inclined to agree. Someday someone will make a good British film about football and masculinity. Sadly, Top Dog isn't it.
Top Dog is available on DVD (£12.99) and Blu-ray £15.99