Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, Leven Rambin, Bruce McGill, Nicholas Braun, Vinnie Jones, Elyse Levesque, Joelle Carter, Lenora Crichlow, Brandon Sklenar, Mark Rhino Smith, Stephen Marcus, Dan Buran
Written by: Scott Wiper, based on a story by Scott Wiper, Paul Tarantino
Directed by: Scott Wiper
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, some sexual content and brief drug use
Running Time: 106
Date: 07/24/2020

The Big Ugly (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Ugly' as Sin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This pulpy, "B" level crime story gets by not only on potent casting, but also on its clash between two different types of characters, like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels meets Hell or High Water.

In The Big Ugly, English crime boss Harris (Malcolm McDowell) flies to West Virginia to see his old friend, oilman Preston (Ron Perlman), in the hopes of striking a deal. Harris brings along his loyal right-hand man Neelyn (Vinnie Jones), and Neelyn brings his girlfriend Fiona (Lenora Crichlow). That night Preston's bullying, womanizing son Junior (Brandon Sklenar) seduces Harris's paid companion, and then turns his sights on Fiona.

When Fiona is later found dead, Neelyn vows to stay behind and find out what happened. Meanwhile, Junior has decided to seduce pretty bartender Kara (Leven Rambin), who has begun dating kindhearted Will (Nicholas Braun). Will works for Preston, and is supposed to keep an eye on Junior. Will Junior's behavior tear apart the peace between Preston and Harris?

Starting at the top, The Big Ugly has Perlman as a mountainous cowboy type, who stops to tear down a Confederate flag and makes speeches about honoring the land. ("I don't frack.") Then, McDowell is an elegant Englishman capable of terrifying with his steely stare and his raspy snarl. It's so much fun to see these two sharing scenes, and they actually feel as if they have a shared history.

"Junior" is a truly vile antagonist, bullying and oppressive toward women, and Sklenar somehow makes him believable. The women characters are all pretty wise, however; they know they're living in a men's world here, but they refuse to be pushed around.

Director and co-writer Scott Wiper does an admirable job balancing all the characters, and keeping things clear. The movie feels neither too long nor too lean. He also manages a certain appealing lightweight tone, while still managing to honor the tragedy that Jones's character goes through. The Big Ugly may not break any new ground, but it is a colorful, enjoyable romp through the criminal underworld.

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