Top Dog review (DVD)

Adapted from a “cult novel” by Green Street writer Brimson and directed by Kemp of Spandau Ballet fame, Top Dog tells the story of Billy Evans (Gregory), head of the football firm the Acton Casuals and family man. Evans gets into trouble with a local gang after they put the squeeze on his aunt's pub, sparking his rage and dropping him in way over his head.

Where this differs from the majority of dreck-filled football films is that Top Dog is definitely more character-based than pub punch up-based, although there are a numbing amount of largely pointless fights. Gregory is charged with the difficult job of making anyone empathise with a thuggish lout, a job made doubly difficult by the clichéd script.

Initially there's hope that Kemp & co are aware of the trappings of their genre as one of Evan's cronies utters “It's all a bit Lock, Stock, isn't it?”. However, by the second half of the film, the plot and character developments have all gone exactly to prediction. Despite the best efforts of Gregory's convincing performance and Kemp's uniform direction, the hope of anything truly innovative coming out of this film has been smashed by a painfully dull script, like a pint glass over the viewer's head, reminding them that football films can only be about drinking and fighting, apparently.

So once the hope of innovation is gone, what's left? Given the fights, the family drama, the guns, gangs and girls, Top Dog should at least be a fun watch, but it's so hampered by its script that it struggles to break out of the football hooligan staple and descends into silliness. As for the other actors, Regan's and Harnett's performances are hard to take seriously as their respective  omnipotent London mobster caricatures, and the women in the film are either a strippers or wives, because according to Dougie Brimson, women are either arm candy or mothers. It's a shame to see Brent and Stanley sorely misused.

As a general reviewing rule, it's good form to appreciate any film's ambition. Even, and especially, when it's a poor film. It's the effective difference between being punched in the face by someone who only wants to cause you pain, and being punched in the face by someone trying to create a piece of art out of your bruised face. Top Dog is the latter of the two, a football hooligan film desperately trying to get away from its own genre and into drama, and while it's not totally successful, I'd much rather have ambitious failures than intentionally disappointing failures.


Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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