7LIVES

3.5 out of 10

Release Date: 11th March 2011 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Paul Wilkins

Cast: Danny Dyer, Mary Stockley, Kate Ashfield, Martin Compston, Craig Conway, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Jennie Jacques, Tom Goodman-Hill,  Michael Elwyn, Anna Skellern, Tamzin Malleson, Charles Mnene, Helen George, Nick Brimble with Nick Nevern and Struan Rodger

Writer: Paul Wilkins

Trailer: 7LIVES

Is the grass greener on the other side?  Danny Dyer‘s (JUST FOR THE RECORD) Tom asks himself this question when his demanding mistress (KATE ASHFIELD – SHAUN OF THE DEAD) asks if he wants a more exciting existence? Luckily, he gets to discover what it’s like to live somebody else’s life after getting beaten into a coma by three baggy trousered louts on a short cut through his neighbourhood.  Close to death he morphs into the lead thug who, just before the transformation was played by black actor, Charles Mneme, but confusingly, once he’s possessed by Tom, he is played by white actor Theo Barklem-Biggs (KEITH LEMON). Confused?  So far so pointless. Within his new body he gets to see what his life as a disenfranchised youth is like, except he still gets to act like Tom.  Discovering he’d sooner be Tom than a Chav, he looks for escape and somehow quantum leaps into the body of a tramp (TOM GOODMAN-HILL – FAT SLAGS) and so on. Time rewinds to the beginning of the mugging (I think) and Tom gets to try on somebody else’s shoes. After the tramp he goes onto become a rock-star, a boxer and the doctor that will end up tending to him in hospital.  If this sounds like a British version of Quantum Leap with Danny Dyer as a cockney Sam Beckett. It’s not.  Confusingly, events are interlaced with flashbacks to Tom’s real life and we never really get to understand the dynamics of his journey.  How is it he gets to step into these different lives on his way to the next world?  These questions wouldn’t seem important if even one of the episodes were remotely interesting.  The rock-star conceit is confused with Martin Compston (GHOSTED) suffering Dad related (STRUAN RODGER – KILL LIST) conflicts and a confusing sexual encounter with a gang-raped groupie (JENNIE JACQUES – TRUTH OR DARE).  The tramp interlude is badly played and the script is garbled as a tramp is virtually kidnapped by a woman in mourning for a long lost husband.  Forced into a roll-playing scenario, this is the longest and most incomprehensible stretch of 7Lives. This part comes along fairly early, so if you can battle your way through it the film does improve, slightly.

The central problem is there is little insight into the mechanics or dynamics both on a storytelling level and as a device.  Seemingly, according to the writers of 7Lives, on nearing death, a person can float and possess another person’s mind. But this raises unanswerable questions? How long does this period last for? Is it a parallel universe? Does the possessed person know he’s been possessed? Is it all a dream? None of this is resolvable.  Characters from earlier story lines pop up with no explanation or reason.  Is it aiming to be a UK equivalent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for the Kidulthood crowd?  You tell me. It certainly doesn’t work.   It would have made more sense if Danny Dyer had played all the characters (Sam Beckett style!) that his Tom travels through. The casting of other actors, even three at one point for one person, is too unsettling.  It’s like watching a string of unconnected and ultimately uninvolving short stories.  Good actors like Martin Compston, Craig Conway (DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND) and Nick Nevern (GBH) are thoroughly wasted. I just remembered Nick Nevern plays a policeman who pops up in a few of the parallel worlds called Detective Echo. Oh-oh.

The ambiguous telling of this jigsaw (with lots of missing pieces) leaves the viewer clueless. It’s not as if you can apply you’re own theories to what is happening as none of them could ever work.  It’s not good enough to even want to analyse. The acting is OK but no-one stands out.  Danny Dyer is better than he’s been for a long time, but he’s done a grave disservice by a very dull, confusing and non-sensical story.  Sadly, this potentially interesting slant on the “dying experience” tract lead by Jacob’s Ladder is D.O.A.

3.5 out of 10 – Originality stifles this largely dull experiment.  7Lives is largely incomprehensible and unforgivably dull. Trying something different doesn’t always pay off. High marks for originality but all those points are deducted when stacked versus a terrible script and a hard battle not to switch the DVD player off.  Certainly made me wonder what else I could have been watching!

CHECK OUT JOE PESCI’s mischeivous review!!!! Below!

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT PERSON IN BEFORE?

One thought on “7LIVES

  1. It is rare in the annals of modern low-budget British film to find a movie which decides to tackle such weighty philosophical subjects as the truth of our existence, our attitudes to mortality, and the very nature of what we think are our own identities. This is an ambitious agenda, far removed from the worlds of larky gangsters and limb-shredded twentysomethings which form the core of most modern low-budget British films. Curiously, SEVEN LIVES is cast with numerous actors best known for playing larky gangsters or limb-shredded twentysomethings. To see Craig Conway, Martin Compston and, above all, Danny Dyer in a reflective, idea-driven film should be fascinating. Shouldn’t it?

    So, Danny Dyer gets beaten almost to death by some fearsome black hoodies, but, instead of dying, becomes one of them, turns white and lives that hoodie’s life for literally minutes before turning into Tom Goodman-Hill as a beggar who is taken in by a Christian with an ulterior motive (we know she’s a Christian because of her crucifix-festooned house). Just as this storyline seems to be petering out to no effect SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS (probably) then our hero turns into a busker/pop star (I got a bit confused at this point) played by Martin Compston who is having issues with a disappointed father, whilst tumbling into bed with Jennie Jacques (wasted like most of the cast in roles which don’t even amount to one dimension) before becoming Craig Conway, a wife-beating boxer (maybe it was he who was upsetting Anna Skellern in A Night in the Woods for here she is as the one-dimensional beaten wife) then it sort of gets a bit surreal and I’ve possibly lost count of all seven lives, before he eventually turns into the doctor (played by Michael Elwyn) who is treating Danny Dyer in hospital! Along the way the criminally underused Kate Ashfield turns up as another one-dimensional woman in Danny’s life.

    So, this has all the logic of a dream (I’m being charitable). And like all the best dreams it is best encountered whilst asleep. (I’m being less charitable now.) Lazy film-making? Or is the film attempting to create a dream, or an end-of-life out-of-body-into-another-body experience? But, oh, other people’s dreams are dull, and this is especially true here as Dyer dreams the dream of Goodman-Hill dreaming the dream of Compston dreaming the dream of Dyer. Or some such formulation. Sadly the big questions are asked in clunkingly prosaic fashion: ‘Do you ever wonder what it’s like to be someone else?’ asks both Dyer (generally when he’s in a coma) and the film, continuously, and irritatingly, and obviously expecting the answer to be ‘yes please’. My answer is no, not really for the fairly obvious reason that I’d be someone else and wouldn’t be aware that I was no longer me. Obviously we all want things that others have but we still want to be ourselves to some extent. So the film is asking a redundant, or poorly phrased question. And the answers, if there are any, are hidden beneath a blanket of anti-dramatic fuzz, acted blandly as if the cast are literally sleepwalking through their parts, though I don’t blame them.

    The big question for me though is WHY? Why was each life played by a different actor? Surely this should have been a showcase for an actor to take on several distinct yet linked roles? This surely would have had several advantages: the audience wouldn’t be wondering why the black kid turned white and no-one noticed (OK we’d have wondered why no-one had noticed that he’d suddenly become Danny Dyer but as the film progressed we’d have accepted that as part of the film’s grammar); it would have maintained audience certainty that this is one person experiencing several lives; it would have been a fantastic challenge for the actor. The only real disadvantage is finding an actor who could do it (and to be honest I doubt Dyer could have done it – it’s always good to see him trying to get away from the cockney gangster wide-boy typecasting, but it doesn’t work here. It doesn’t help that he’s comatose for much of the film, but then, so are the audience).

    Dyer’s metamorphosis into the first character is accompanied by his being aware of being someone else. As the film progresses he seems to be quite at home in some of his bodies. But these seven lives are not particularly enlightening. Dyer learns to appreciate what he has; as such he decides that his extra-marital affair was not a good thing (yes, it took inhabiting the lives of six other people to work that one out) and that the best way to deal with gangs of bad black boys is to issue florid threats (something about going to the toilet down their necks I think – don’t try this at home kids). But you’ll still die.

    I do appreciate that the film-makers were attempting something different (though Quantum Leap and Jacob’s Ladder are obvious precedents, and even Switch was better, and then there’s Big and all the body swap films, and then stuff like Hands of the Ripper even) but I do wonder if it might have been better as a novel, or, if it was a bit more conventionally plotted, a TV serial where each of the lives could have been fleshed out, and the mystery of what exactly is happening might have gained a bit of momentum. As a film it’s a bit of a mess. And it needed to be arty. And this is flat. It needed a bit of Ken Russell barminess, some of Loach’s roughness, some panache, style, energy, a kind of deft switching between hallucination and reality, something to really heighten each twist. We needed to be both baffled and beguiled. SEVEN LIVES does none of this. One thing this film should not have been is flat. On a philosophical level it is asking all sorts of questions, and film should be an ideal medium for articulating these questions (if not answering them, I’m not that greedy): what is a life? What is someone else’s life to me? What if I inhabited that life? What happens as I die? Do we really only have one chance? What if I had another option? Instead of examining these questions and coming up with all manner of speculations instead we get some soap-style mini-dramas with their vital organs (interesting characters, compelling plot, appropriate style, truthful dialogue) amputated. Usually when someone comes up with a flawed but interesting premise I want to give credit for the interesting bit, but here I really wish they hadn’t bothered. It’s as if they started work every morning muttering ‘hide the good idea, bury it’.

    I did quite like the title sequence though (now if that’s not damning with faint praise I don’t know what is). It suggested a film which might’ve been in the same mould as say After Hours (one of the few Scorsese films I really like). It looked like it might be quirky but thoughtful. Sadly it is forgettable and trite. Although better than my last Danny Dyer film (the gloriously dire BASEMENT) SEVEN LIVES is a lot less fun.

    2 out of 10 – Joe Pecsi meet Danger Mouse’s mate Penfold (Matt Usher)

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