Made in Britain: Big Fat Gypsy Gangster (2011)
Back in the late 90’s Channel 4 used to run a late night comedy satire show. Unsurprisingly, and unimaginatively, entitled The 11 O’Clock Show, this series did prove to be a touch hit or miss, but when on song, it was absolute dynamite. Some of the most amusing interviews I saw at the time were on this, and I will honestly never forget Daisy Donovan asking Glenda Jackson (UK MP and double Oscar winner) what it was like to be fingered by Tony Blair. I mention this, because the 11 O’Clock show was the starting point for a lot of UK talent, being the series that launched (amongst others)Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G and Borat, Ricky Gervais (his bit on feminism was genius), Daisy Donovan, and, finally, Ricky Grover. Grover appeared as psychotic time-serving nutter Bulla, and his little segments on current affairs tended towards the hilarious. Back in 2011, though, he sat down with his wife, and decided that Bulla, like Ali G, deserved a full length film. I’m not so sure I agree.
Contains thieving gypsy bastards and spoilers below.
Taking the form of a mocumentary, Big Fat Gypsy Gangster tells the story of an American film crew (fronted by Joshua Lou Friedman), who have decided to follow Bulla to see if he can rehabilitate himself into society. The opening scenes with fake interviews with his friends and associates interspersed with headlines (including the brilliant “Bulla ate his own bicep”) are genuinely funny, as the film brings us up to speed very quickly. Once out, it appears that things have gone utterly tits up for the pikey hardman. His turf has been taken over by the bent copper who put him away in the first place (Eddie Webber), his auntie (Laila Morse)is being spit roasted by ghosts, and her pub is in trouble, he’s fallen into a load of new age nonsense at the hands of his Guru (Steven Berkoff), and his moody Turkish accountant (Omjid Djalili) is offended at some slight to his family. Bulla is on the way back, though, and decides that he’s going to claw his turf back by any means at all. What this amounts to, is a series of set pieces in the criminal gypsy community. Bulla goes in for bare knuckle boxing, for example, beats the shit out of a road rage inflicted driver, and bumbles around visiting important places in his life and times, before the inevitable happens and he ends up back at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Grover has fleshed Bulla out here. I couldn’t remember his background at all (it has been 13 years and a lot of water and blow have gone under the bridge since), but Grover spells it out. His mother was a 7 foot tall Giantess with one arm that used to push carts for rotten fruit, which she would then regurgitate into young Bulla’s mouth to feed him, while his father (funniest speech in the film this) was a legendary midget hardman who died in Seville going toe to toe with a bull. In Bulla’s words “You just think abaht that”. Surrounded by his crew, comprising of his left and right hand men, his midget brother Major (Maxwell Laird), and his loving family, Bulla wants to put things right, but “in his world you only get things by fighting or stealing”.
The acting here is good. Grover, obviously, knows Bulla backwards, and exudes a surprising charisma in the part. The majority of the support is acceptable, but the star turn here is the increasingly insane performance of Djalili, who honestly steals the film every time he’s on screen. He’s flat out genius and, to be fair, also gets some of the genuinely funniest moments in the movie. Worth watching out for are the singing at the bare knuckle fight, and the attempt to shoot Bulla “with your own stinky ass gun”. I’ve seen Djalili’s stand up, and he’s never been less than funny, so it’s nice to see him on the big screen doing the same. Finally, on the acting front, this is laced with cameos from recognisable faces including Tulisa from N-Dubz as one of girl band wannabes “Double D Cup”.
Some bits of this film are absolutely genius. In particular, Bulla’s sister runs an illegal fighting midget smuggling ring, and the sequence leading up to the midget fight is absolute gold. Bulla has picked himself a prize winning psycho dwarf, and is gutted to hear that said midget has escaped. Even more gutted to find out that the midget has gone on a rampage and is looking at 10 years for GBH and malicious wounding. It all looks bad for him, until Major volunteers to go in the ring instead, which prompts the hilarious “You can’t. You’re tame”. The fight itself is sheer comic gold, but midget fighting always is. There are other great scenes and speeches in the film, but I honestly think the midget fighting is worth the price of admission by itself.
Unfortunately, it’s also patchier than a patchwork quilt. To separate the scenes, we get little 11 O’Clock Show style Bulla segments where he gives us a bit of his philosophy. Unfortunately, these aren’t as funny as Grover thinks they are, and it becomes increasingly tiresome. There are also several minor characters that are painfully, awfully, unfunny, such as Rufus Hound’s failed psychic (I cheered when he got tasered) that distract from the thrust of the film. On average, I would reckon that the scenes and jokes that don’t work run almost double to those that do. Particularly annoying is the “Cozzer with a big truncheon” gag, that’s both juvenile and cretinous, but it’s hardly alone on that front.
There’s also a very nasty streak to the film. Mason preparing to rape his boyfriend, for example, could never be said to be funny, and there are moments of genuine cynicism here. Half the problem is the Bulla character. At the end of the day, he’s a psychopath that served 16 years for armed robbery, and he’s on the verge of violence constantly. Some sequences, such as the goading of Lefty are a bit sordid, and genuinely not funny, and it does sour me towards the film a touch. It’s also not as sharp a parody as it thinks. It is clearly spoofing the seemingly never-ending stream of Brit Gangster films, but on more than one occasion it doesn’t quite skewer it’s intended target. Sure, all the clichés are present and correct, but some of them (the boxing club) feel almost totally pointless.
Overall, if I still gave out ratings, then I’d give this one 2 honest gypsy bastards out of a possible 4. It is very funny on occasion, but the essential problem here is that Bulla was, like Ali G, a character invented for short bursts. When you extend him out to feature length, and contrive a narrative around him, then it becomes really obvious that there isn’t enough material there to warrant more than half an hour at a time. As with Ali G in da House, a full run time exposes the weaknesses of the character, and as such it does become tiresome. I’m going “meh” for this one, because it isn’t a bad film, certainly nowhere near as bad as IMDB think it is (it’s a lot better than the other three “comedies” I’ve seen recently), but it’s not a great one. Grover is now in Eastenders, poor bastard, so we’re unlikely to see him do anything funny again because spending time with the genetically abnormal of Walford will no doubt suck the life out of the poor sod. Still, as a debut film, this isn’t awful, and if you ever blunder across it, then it won’t piss you off. Not to mention that it does have midget fighting.
A big shout out to our own Col Tigh Fighter, who worked on the film. Congratulations, mate.
Until next time,