Dir: Thaddeus O'Sullivan. Ireland. 1999. 94 mins.
Prod cos: Little Bird, in association with Tatfilm and Trigger Street Productions. Int'l sales: Icon Entertainment International (44 207 494 8100). Exec prods: James Mitchell. Prods: Jonathan Cavendish. Co-prods: Martha O'Neill, Christine Ruppert. Scr: Gerry Stembridge. DoP: Andrew Dunn. Prod des: Tony Burrough. Ed: William Anderson. Music: Damon Albarn. Main cast: Kevin Spacey, Linda Fiorentino, Helen Baxendale, Peter Mullan, David Hayman, Stephen Dillane.
Ordinary Decent Criminal is no less than the third screen version of the life of Martin Cahill, the infamous Dublin criminal who thumbed his nose at the law and became a popular folk hero in the process: the past two years have already seen a BBC movie called Vicious Circle and John Boorman's The General, which played in competition in Cannes in 1998.
Although the makers of the new film claim that Cahill was no more than a starting point for their story (he is renamed Michael Lynch here), Ordinary Decent Criminal covers substantially the same ground as The General: the main character's unconventional but successful menage a trois with two beautiful sisters (Fiorentino and Baxendale), his habit of concealing his face, his clashes with the IRA, the climatic heist of a famous painting and his love-hate relationship with the police detective (Dillane) assigned to his case.
It is, however, a more light-hearted and altogether more lightweight affair, vastly less ambitious in formal terms than The General as well as eschewing that film's streak of cruelty, its moral complexity and tragic conclusion. The shallow ethical viewpoint of Ordinary Decent Criminal is best summed up by its copyline: "Crime doesn't pay ... but it can be a lot of fun".
Directed by O'Sullivan as the broadest of caper comedies, the result is thoroughly undistinguished though difficult to dislike; it's unlikely to reap anything very much in the way of critical kudos and such commercial prospects as it has will be with younger mainstream audiences attracted by Albarn's pervasive (indeed somewhat intrusive) soundtrack and the raffish presence of Spacey, sporting a peculiar Irish accent, in the leading role.