You'll want to be sure not to mistake Layer Cake for an epicurean chick flick like Mystic Pizza. In fact, the flick's only chick -- aside from the screaming psycho bitch who gets a bullet in the head -- is portrayed by an actress whose importance to the film earns her about 15th billing on screen, although she enjoys third billing on the poster, presumably to promise a hint of sex with the movie's star (their coitus is interrupted when he gets kidnapped while she's slipping into her black lace brassiere and panties).
No, this is another de rigueur British mod-mobster movie, where people talk dirty and die dirtier. With its explosive violence, incomprehensible plot, thumbnail characters, flamboyant acting, and a camera without boundaries, it tries much too desperately to be í la mode. But we've seen more than enough insipid little movies like this one lately to identify it as a contemporary genre already in need of a hip replacement.
The jaded narrator of Layer Cake, identified only as XXXX (Daniel Craig), runs a successful London lending firm that's perfect for laundering the millions he makes selling cocaine. He knows the rules of this dangerous life, and he keeps a low profile -- until his supplier, a wealthy Cockney kingpin named Jimmy, demands a favor: Find the daughter of his old friend Eddie (Michael Gambon) who got hooked on cocaine and disappeared into the grimy street world of addicts and pushers.
It's a job XXXX doesn't want, especially because he's caught up in a brutal dispute over a missing shipment of pills coveted by Jimmy, a band of hothead young dealers, a mysterious Serb and, it turns out, Eddie, who's a more gentlemanly criminal, and whose daughter is just fine. You can try to decipher this mess if you like, although it won't matter. Layer Cake simply wants to create a mood of perpetual danger, which it does, as long as you don't care about what's what and especially who's who.
There's a salvageable movie at the core of Layer Cake, which was directed by Matthew Vaughn (he's slated to do X-Men 3) and adapted by J.J. Connolly from his own novel. Strip away its frenzied plot of double- and triple-crosses and you'll find the seed of a concentrated neo-noir character drama -- like the fine Mona Lisa, or the little-known (and even finer) The Long Good Friday -- about the workaday lives of the criminal element. Craig and Gambon make excellent foils -- one steely, the other tart -- and the movie's final twist might have packed a punch without the cacophony of all that comes before.
The title, which refers to the plot as well as to the class distinctions among its players, draws from Eddie's assertion that as a man matures into success, first he gets shit, then he gives shit, and then he forgets what shit even looks like. In a layer cake, you can see and taste each distinct layer. This movie is what shit must look like after you run it through a Cuisinart.