Circus (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: Lock, Stock and a whole bunch more Smoking Barrels.

I thought Tarantino and Fincher must have been the most copied contemporary directors, but I always forget about the British film industry, which seems to turn out 1000 Guy Ritchie films per year. 

The not-so-secret ingredients are: 

  • Criminal lowlifes of various races and classes.
  • A single score for which all the criminals are competing - jewels, money, antiques, stamps, whatever.
  • It's good if the treasure changes hands hundreds of times, and especially good if the guys who have it don't even realize it at the time.
  • All characters are lying to all other characters at all times
  • Botched jobs.
  • Sadistic torture
  • Graphic violence
  • Humor at dramatic moments.
  • So many plot twists that the characters in the film are as lost as the audience.
  • Facial close-ups.
  • Hip, edgy, cavalier dialogue.


  • John Hannah and Eddy Izzard are seen naked from behind at a nudist beach.
  • Fred Ward is seen from the side in a sex scene.
  • Brian Conley is seen naked from behind, but far from the camera.
  • Julie Saunders is topless in a sex scene.
  • An unidentified woman is seen topless.

In this variation, the actors are joined by comedians, so the ratio of dialogue to action, often skewed in these films, is completely distorted toward dialogue. It's basically sadistic humor peppered with incomprehensible plot twists. It isn't made any easier to understand by a technique that features false flashbacks and real flashbacks without any explanation. Everyone is double crossing everyone else, as well as the people they are doing the double-cross with. And sometimes they are just lying about the double cross. Or something.

The British film industry reminds me of my mom. When I was a kid, I'd say "I liked that book about trains", and she would then give me train books for years. She'd drive hundreds of miles to get rare train books, long after I'd lost interest. Then when my boys were little kids, they made the mistake of telling her that they really enjoyed the toy trucks that Hess Oil issued each year. I think they were well into their twenties, and she was still giving them those toy trucks every Christmas. She was a terrific mom, but she never knew when the game was over, and she never let reality interfere with her fixed ideas.

So it has always been with British movies. A few successful comedies - expect the same formula for 20 years. A critical and financial hit with "Lock, Stock ....."? Expect to see these stylized, violent gangster comedy/dramas for a long time after we're sick of them. "Circus" is this week's train book.

Jeez, what are the chances of seeing, in 24 hours, two incomprehensible movies starring Peter Stormare in which he uses a silly regional English accent? (I think his region is the Little Stockholm section of Liverpool) Add this one to The Million Dollar Hotel

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Good features: full-length commentary, "making-of", deleted scenes.

To tell you the truth, the film isn't as bad as the critics said. (It was universally panned in the UK.)

Moments are fun to watch, the photography is colorful and stylish, Fred Ward creates an especially interesting character, and the resolution seems to pull together the important ends in a cathartic and satisfying way.

Just don't expect to know what's going on until the end, and don't expect to see anything very original. 

The Critics Vote

  • Consensus: slightly better than one star. BBC 2/5, Britmovie 23/100, Insideout UK 1/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.1.
  • With their dollars ... a monster flop. Took in $8000 in the USA on 8 screens. Assuming it played a week in major cities, three showings per day, that's less than 10 people per performance. They pretty much hated it just as much in the UK, where it took in only 300,000. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

Return to the Movie House home page