Once Upon a Time in the Midlands [2002]

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is credited as the closing part in a loosely connected trilogy by director Shane Meadows. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and Twenty Four Seven (1997) preceded it, and ultimately the viewer will be hard-pressed to discern more than the British Midlands locale linking them together. That and the generally grim tone. Here we have what boils down to a tale of a girl (Shirley Henderson) who can't decide between two guys (her ex, Robert Carlyle, or her current boyfriend, Rhys Ifans). Wrapped up in some easy comedy and framed in the occasional nod to the spaghetti Western genre, the movie initially has plenty in its favor. Unfortunately, the intrusion of a B-plot involving some Scottish thugs overpowers the more pleasant family portrait. As a result, the stellar performances by Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson get lost in the drama of the love triangle. After swinging back and forth indecisively, Shirley's conclusion to the tale doesn't have the emotional punch that it should have. This third Midlands tale may be the most accessible in terms of familiar characters and aspects of contemporary British life, but what it isn't is the kind of escapist movie experience suggested by its title. --Paul Tonks

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