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A Town Called Malice review: 80s jukebox crime saga lacks substance

A killer soundtrack papers over the cracks in Nick Love's new Sky Max series

Set amongst the beach clubs and palm trees of the Costa del Sol in the early 80s, A Town Called Malice follows the Lords, a crime family of petty thieves from South London, as they decamp from London to Spain to profit from an unexpected windfall – and to escape the attention of the police in a high-profile murder enquiry.
Jason Flemyng in A Town Called Malice. (Sky)

Created by Nick Love (The Sweeney), starring Jason Flemyng (The Walk-In), and full of pulsing 80s anthems – new crime drama A Town Called Malice launches on Sky Max from 16 March.

This retro crime thriller, which exists in Spain's sun-kissed Costa del Crime, charts the fortunes of South London family the Lords: a Bermondsey syndicate who seek out sunnier climes, after one too many run-ins with the law, and their criminal competition, forces them into an extended vacation.

In an opening episode soaked in neon nostalgia, audiences are introduced to Gene Lord (Jack Rowan) as he struts his stuff at a South London night spot.

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Towering mounds of lacquered hair and perfectly preened mullets adorn the dancefloor, as Gene knocks back the advances of a girl when she hears his surname. Seconds later he locks eyes with Cindy (Tahirah Sharif), who happens be serving behind the bar and they get into conversation.

Watch a trailer for A Town Called Malice

After an abbreviated courtship, which ends in a predictable bedroom scene, this whirlwind romance only serves to tee up further introductions.

The following day they pull up outside a spit and sawdust boozer, where Cindy is served up as the latest addition to the Lord family. With patriarch Albert (Jason Flemyng), and steely eyed matriarch Mint Ma (Martha Plimpton) holding court surrounded by her brood, A Town Called Malice instantly feels every inch the crime caper cliché.

Stylishly, writer Nick Love employs his soundtrack with flair to back up any lack of substance elsewhere. At every given opportunity the title is used to break up scenes, punctuate moments of dramatic worth, and generally remind audiences what era they are watching.

What other critics thought of A Town Called Malice

Evening Standard: A blast of Eighties-flavoured fun (3 min read)

The Telegraph: A wallow in 1980s nostalgia on the Costa del Crime (2 min read)

From the predictable turf war clash between opposing gangs which heralds their exit to Spain, through to Martha Plimpton’s awkward use of profanity, A Town Called Malice feels like mail order Guy Ritchie.

The reason for Gene and Cindy’s quick exit to Spain, aside from narrative necessity, is of little consequence since it introduces Dougray Scott as Uncle Tony, a vaudevillian interpretation of an expat abroad, who eyes up senoritas, drinks too much sangria, and shamelessly ogles Cindy on sight.

Sporting a bloated slug across his top lip and cavorting around buck naked, this distant member of the Lord clan is pure brilliant trash.

Cindy Carter (Tahirah Sharif), Uncle Tony (Dougray Scott), and Gene Lord (Jack Rowan) in A Town Called Malice (Sky)
Cindy Carter (Tahirah Sharif), Uncle Tony (Dougray Scott), and Gene Lord (Jack Rowan) in A Town Called Malice. (Sky)

How things escalate from there is also somewhat predictable, but ultimately culminates in the Lord clan descending en masse. With plot-lines which are equally split between the sun-drenched beaches of Spain, and dingy tenement flats in Bermondsey, A Town Called Malice rarely gets the pulses racing.

Of the central cast, only Tahirah Sharif (The Haunting of Bly Manor) and Martha Plimpton (The Man Who Fell to Earth) make an impact. In her portrayal of Cindy, there is a pre-possession which translates into some solid acting choices, giving this character an almost magnetic quality.

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Likewise, US actor Martha Plimpton disappears between the veil of Mint Ma Lord, inhabiting every inch of this south London figurehead.

Unfortunately, these performance highlights are overshadowed by a thinly plotted crime caper, which offers few surprises and for the most part lacks momentum.

There might well be copious shootings, some clandestine plotting between Gene and Cindy, not to mention Flemyng in full on Cockney geezer mode, but those pleasures are diminished by everything else.

Mint Ma Lord (Martha Plimpton), Leonard Lord (Lex Shrapnel), Gene Lord (Jack Rowan), Carly Lord (Eliza Butterworth), Cindy Carter (Tahirah Sharif), and Albert Lord (Jason Flemyng) in A Town Called Malice (Sky)
Mint Ma Lord (Martha Plimpton), Leonard Lord (Lex Shrapnel), Gene Lord (Jack Rowan), Carly Lord (Eliza Butterworth), Cindy Carter (Tahirah Sharif), and Albert Lord (Jason Flemyng) in A Town Called Malice (Sky)

For the most part, it looks like a lot of extremely gifted actors being wasted in two-dimensional roles. As much as they might try to squeeze some genuine pathos from proceedings, there is no real darkness in those darker moments, while any light comedy used to defuse tensions misses the mark.

A fact which hits home hardest when any use of bad language lacks impact, due to an absence of dramatic need. In short: f-words and other higher-ranking profanities are employed for shock purposes only.

Which means that A Town Called Malice ultimately feels disappointing, considering the calibre of talent involved. Beyond the role call of classic 80s floor fillers from The Jam through to The Clash and Tears for Fears – this Sky-funded crime thriller is mediocre at best with a few redeeming features.

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For cinematic alternatives more in keeping with expectations, audiences might want to seek out Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast, which sees Sir Ben Kingsley unleashing hell on Ray Winstone's Don Logan. Overbearing and bullish – he reduces his on-screen co-star to ashes with a legendary tirade of inventive profanity.

That is everything that A Town Called Malice wanted to be but sadly never comes close to delivering.

A Town Called Malice is available on Sky Max and streaming service NOW from 16 March.