5 out of 10
Release Date: 12th July 2010 (DVD Premiere)
Director: Rishi Opel (The Grind)
Cast: Jamie Foreman, Freddie Connor, Gordon Alexander, Zoe Tapper, Kellie Shirley, Brenden Lovett, Gemma Atkinson, Joan Hodges, Jay Brown, Raji James, Rez Kempton with Gary Stretch and Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Freddie Connor
Review by Matt Usher
Life rarely gives you a second chance, so when it does, you should grab it with both hands. I guess this thought went through the minds of the makers of BASELINE but it doesn’t explain why they thought it was a good idea to remake a film as poor as THE GRIND. And still come up with a poor film. BASELINE is a remake and elaboration of the events seen in THE GRIND, using mostly the same actors. Although BASELINE is a vast improvement, I can’t understand why they didn’t spend their money making a completely different film instead.
Context is everything. Anyone stumbling on BASELINE would (I hope) dismiss it as a not particularly interesting fairly run of the mill London gangsters film. But watch it immediately after THE GRIND and it’s like watching SCHINDLER’S LIST immediately after SHOWGIRLS. But what fool is going to watch BASELINE after watching THE GRIND (or vice versa) (apart from me)?
The plot concerns a young man played by Freddie Connor (GYPO) who dreams of one day owning his very own nightclub. Meanwhile he works as a bouncer at Jamie Foreman’s (THE FOOTBALL FACTORY) nightclub (just like in THE GRIND). There he meets the love of his life (Zoe Tapper (CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR THE WEDDING), who gets much more to do than in THE GRIND where she just had to look mildly peeved, though her main character trait here appears to be ‘is bad at housework’) but the course of true love runs not smooth because here’s Gordon Alexander (DON’T LET HIM IN) again as Connor’s buddy. He’s one of Foreman’s henchmen and they (including Dexter Fletcher (AGE OF KILL) – luxury casting in a small (but not cameo) role, and yet he’s actually quite bad) (strange how Fletcher always seems to have an off-day whenever he’s loitering about in these low-budget anti-spectaculars) go along to sort out a (possibly foreign) rival gangster played by boxing legend Gary Stretch (FINAL COMBINATION). The plan goes awry and Gordon Alexander goes to jail. Meanwhile Connor gets a nice promotion and moves in with Tapper while Alexander loses his girlfriend (played by the ever-reliable Kellie Shirley (GBH) – not that any film-maker seems to know what to do with her).
So that’s the prequel bit. The remainder of the film is a retread and re-tweak of THE GRIND as Alexander leaves jail, finds himself heavily in debt to Foreman, guilt-trips Connor into handing over his life savings (thus destroying Connor’s dream of nightclub ownership), imperils all around him and winds up involved in a deeply improbable warehouse-based showdown with some burly bald thugs who have been thugging about all over the place, some of whom may or may not be the burly bald thugs fielded in THE GRIND.
One of the few interesting things about THE GRIND was how it refused to give the audience any easy answers (like who these people are and how they know each other). BASELINE answers all those questions, and retells the whole story and is an altogether more accomplished film, but in doing so it irons out any ambiguity. On the plus side, although only about 12 minutes longer, BASELINE fits in a lot more plot, more characterization and has significantly fewer duff dance sequences in the lame nightclub (now called Baseline rather than The Grind, because that would have just been confusing).
The actors all fare better, though one wonders why they came back for a second go. Freddie Connor is considerably better, but still doesn’t convince as a hard man, though that’s partly the point. Gordon Alexander is better this time partly because he has less to do, and therefore has less screen time to expose his weaknesses. It is a testament to his lack of acting skill that despite being an almost blameless victim it is almost impossible to dredge up even a scintilla of sympathy for his character (yes, I know I just said that he was much better, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean he’s actually good – I don’t know whether he should get points for persevering or penalties for not knowing when to give up). The more famous names also turn in decent performances (except for Dexter Fletcher). Jamie Foreman again gets it just right, avoiding the OTT excesses he can be prone to.
As with THE GRIND, the music has a lot to do, and although not great, it still manages to upstage most of the cast. They’ve also found a much better nightclub location, and they’ve managed to film it a lot better. Presumably much of this is down to the new director. Poor director Rishi Opel seems to have got the push and been replaced by Brendon O’Loughlin. And this is perhaps the thing: both BASELINE and THE GRIND tell the usual story. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the lesser film has ‘inspired’ the later film, using many of the same cast and creatives, and that seems to be a much more interesting story in itself.
That’s not to suggest that BASELINE is completely negligible. Although hackneyed, it’s a quite good story, with some interesting and relevant themes. It may be that the film-makers are completely oblivious of this, but they have made a resolutely Marxist film criticising the pursuit of capital and the control of that capital by champagne-swigging layabouts who do nothing more than instil fear in the workers who they bleed dry. Early in the film Alexander is in debt to Foreman. He ends up being the fall guy in the confrontation with some other gangsters so he pops off to jail for a few years, assuming that his debt would be cancelled in return for his silence. Alas for him, his employer/creditor disagrees. So clearly the film is a meditation on the spiralling nature of debt, and it becomes a metaphor for a Britain where the poor have literally been required to pay for the misdeeds of the rich, the poor then supinely accepting the blame. It is of course entirely possible that none of this ever entered the film-makers’ heads, which goes to show what they know.
Judging BASELINE on its own merits, it proves itself to be an effective enough film which has a simple story which is told with economy and restraint, and which (just about) avoids outstaying its welcome, but is nevertheless a cold, dull and pointless exercise. But I’m sure its makers would prefer it if I compared it to THE GRIND: where THE GRIND was dreary, BASELINE is moderately energetic, where THE GRIND was overstretched, BASELINE is reasonably compact, and where THE GRIND was full of lifeless characters going through the motions, BASELINE, oh hang on. You know what, watch something else instead.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR BEFORE?
- Jamie Foreman: The Bromley Boys, A Hundred Streets, Eastenders (TV), Dead End (2013), St George’s Day, The Grind, Screwed (2011), Ironclad, Botched, Eastenders (TV), Oliver Twist (2005), Layer Cake, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, The Football Factory, Goodbye Charlie Bright, Gangster No.1, Elizabeth I, This Year’s Love, Nil By Mouth
- Gordon Alexander: The Anomaly, Don’t Let Him In, The Grind, The Purifiers, Sucker Punch (2008), Underground (2008)
- Freddie Connor: The Grind, Gypo
- Zoe Tapper: Blood (2013), Cheerful Weather For The Wedding, The Grind, Survivors (TV), Stage Beauty
- Kellie Shirley: Shame The Devil, Run For Your Wife, GBH, The Grind, Eastenders (TV)
- Gemma Atkinson: Night Of The Living 3D Dead, The Dyatlov Pass Incident, Airborne, How To Stop Being a Loser, 13Hrs, Hollyoaks (TV)
- Jay Brown: Taking Stock, Youngers (TV), Fall of the Essex Boys, Zebra Crossing, Fit, KickOff
- Raji James: UFO (2013), Airborne (2012), Nina’s Heavenly Delights, The Bill (TV), Eastenders (TV), East Is East
- Rez Kempton: Ayub Akbar & Tony, Stag Night of the Dead, I Can’t Think Straight
- Gary Stretch: Savages (2012), Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus, The Heavy, Freebird, Alexander, Dead Man’s Shoes, Final Combination
- Dexter Fletcher: Eddie The Eagle (dir), Age of Kill, The Coven, Muppets Most Wanted, Sunshine On Leith (dir), Cockneys Vs. Zombies, St. George’s Day, Wild Bill (2012) (dir),The Three Musketeers (2011), Everywhere + Nowhere, Kick Ass, Jack Falls, Dead Cert, In Your Dreams, Stardust, Below, Layer Cake, Doom, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, The Rachel Papers, The Raggedy Rawney, Caravaggio, Press Gang (TV)