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In Movies & TV Reviews

Jude Law stars as Dom Hemingway in ... "Dom Hemingway," now playing.

"Dom Hemingway": Jude Law goes from prim, proper to profane, punchy

Noting that Jude Law has an endorsement deal with Dior perfume isn't exactly the kind of revelation that's going to send many jaws plunging to the floor. If anything, it'd be more shocking if he didn't.

Other than a few outliers on his resume – the seedy hitman in "Road to Perdition," the snaggletoothed weasel blogger in "Contagion" – that's just the kind of on-screen persona the 41-year-old Brit star has cultivated over the years: a prim, polite and slightly prissy aristocrat of a man, more likely to try and charm his way out of a fight than throw a punch. Even when pushed, he's more likely to fight from afar, hiding behind a sniper sight ("Enemy at the Gates"), a cockpit window ("Sky Captain") or a prescription pad ("Side Effects").

It takes the new British black comedy "Dom Hemingway" approximately five seconds to pull an Uncle Phil and fling that perception out the door like DJ Jazzy Jeff. Hidden behind a scarred face, lumpy nose and greasy mutton chops – not to mention an extra 29 pounds – Law vigorously spits out a two-minute prison soliloquy of the most buoyantly vulgar poetry to his currently preoccupied member. Cheetahs, volcanoes, Renoir and the Noble Peace Prize are all comparison points, just so you know what kind of carefully understated ego we're working with here.

Gone is the pretty regality; Law looks rough, and he gleefully tears into every single line of the should-be legendary speech (I expect this will be an audition monologue favorite in the upcoming year) like an untamed wolf that just got its first taste of meat. And for Law, that's exactly what it is, a chance for him to let loose with a character like never really before. And he most certainly does, with big, audaciously compelling results.

The rest of the movie, unfortunately, has a hard time getting on his level, but can you really blame it? Even Dom Hemingway can't compete with the legend of Dom Hemingway.

After spending 12 hard years in prison, magic fingered safecracker Dom emerges from prison as a ball of rage wrapped in meat and skin wrapped in a dated three-piece suit. He tries to catch up on over a decade of freedom in a matter of three days – drinking, snorting, pummeling his now dead ex-wife's new husband – but he soon sets off on his main mission: visiting crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) and collecting his reward for staying silent for 12 years.

His one-handed pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant from "Withnail and I," entertaining put-upon) comes along for the ride, as well as to make sure the testy Dom doesn't turn his compensation into his execution.

He gets his payment, but during the jovial celebration, Dom gets into a car crash, killing Mr. Fontaine while the crime boss's Romanian femme fatale girlfriend (Madalina Ghenea) makes off in the chaos with Dom's money.

Left with nothing save for the guilt of missing 12 years of his life for a now stolen lump of cash, Dom resorts to his last act desperation measures. The first part is asking Lestor (Jumayn Hunter, previously another gangster in "Attack the Block"), the crime lord son of an old enemy – still bitter about Dom killing his childhood cat – for work. The second, and far more intimidating, task is reacquainting himself with his daughter (Khaleesi herself Emilia Clarke), now all grown up with a husband, a child, singing gigs and deep resentment for the man who abandoned her and chose his loyalty to Fontaine over his family.

"Dom Hemingway" comes from writer-director Richard Shepard ("The Matador," along with some TV work on "Girls" and "30 Rock"), who gives the film a Guy Ritchie-lite gritty cool. The movie rolls along with energy – it is only 93 minutes long – and he provides his colorful character an equally colorful world filled with bright, oversaturated shades of yellow, blue and red.

His greatest gift, however, is the dialogue. The conversations and little speeches scattered throughout "Dom Hemingway" have a bounding, almost musically vulgar cadence that's a treat to listen to. Even if the characters are saying nothing particularly savory, the words roll off the screen with an easy, profane grace (safe to say nobody describes a hangover like Dom … which is also to say nobody has a hangover like Dom).

Most importantly, it packs in some sharply humorous barbs as well. "Stick to what you're good at," Dom casually shouts to Lestor, "thieving and nepotism."

The movie as a whole, however, is only sporadically entertaining. Shepard's story has less flow than his dialogue, feeling more like three different, unconnected episodes of a Dom Hemingway BBC show – Dom's quest for his money, Dom's quest for his daughter's love, Dom versus Lestor – than a single cohesive story. As with many dark comedies, the tone fluctuates uneasily as well. Shepard's got a better hold than most, but the bouncing between comedy and drama still occasionally ends up wonky.

The episodic vibe isn't helped by useless chapter titles breaking up the story every ten minutes and taking the audience out of the movie. As a result, the heart and catharsis it's working for at the end doesn't quite satisfy, feeling more inevitable than truly earned.

Luckily, even when the movie's in a lull, the movie's namesake and leading man live up to their top billing. Though they seem like an odd match on paper, the voracious combination of performance and character wind up perfect together. Law finds the musical bounce in Shepard's funny, expletive-soaked tirades, as well as the Dom's sympathetic inner soul. He may be a selfish, egocentric sleaze (who doesn't even realize Dickie has a fake hand until he has to be told), but he's also a sad, self-pitying and self-destructive sleaze who's upsettingly aware of his many, many faults. He's flawed, funny and fascinatingly unpredictable.

It's thanks to Law that Dom Hemingway the character makes Dom Hemingway the movie worthwhile.

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