126.96.36.199 is the latest film from Noel Clarke, whose career has been a runaway success these past few years. Last year Clarke was the winner of the Orange Rising Star award following a host of acting roles and also his work on Kidulthood (which he wrote) and Adulthood (which he wrote and directed) and 188.8.131.52 sees Clarke co-directing, writing and starring.
The tagline line to 184.108.40.206 is “4 Girls, 3 Days, 2 Cities, 1 Chance” and the four ‘girls’ in question are Jo (Emma Roberts), Cassandra (Tasmin Egerton), Kerrys (Shanika Warren-Markland) and Shannon (Ophelia Lovibond). Using a muddled structure Clarke focuses on these four girls individually over three days, essentially restarting the film three times in order to tell each one of their stories. There are obviously many overlaps and the overarching plot surrounds a bag of diamonds, the result of a high profile heist, that end up in the girl’s possession.
Along the way there are sub-plots involving internet boyfriends, broken families, house parties and even a plot line surrounding an abortion that is painfully mishandled by Clarke. Despite all these elements being thrown together the film is completely emotionally vacuous and Clarke comes across like a child, constantly showing off and trying to impress. There is even a line where a character comments, for no apparent reason, that Tee (Noel Clarke’s character) probably has a big penis. The line’s not at all funny, totally incongruous and weird when one thinks that Noel Clarke wrote that line for a female character to say about a character he was playing.
There also minor roles for Ben Miller, Michelle Ryan and Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith) who all do adequate jobs but clearly have little to work with. Probably most surprising is Smith who is actually quite good in the film and there is an almost funny scene which takes place on an aeroplane, the comedy aided by knowledge of his recent issues with Southwest Airlines.
The four female protagonists though are poorly drawn one dimensional characters and whenever Clarke attempts to add anything as complicated as emotional depth or complexity to them he fails abysmally and sequences where this is attempted come off as clumsy, often awkward and hard to watch. The way the characters are treated is unbelievably obnoxious, insulting and frequently misogynistic and judging by the laughter during these scenes emanating from the back row of cast and crew in the screening I attended I can only assume that it was supposed to be funny. It was not. When the characters actually suffer real emotional trauma it is no way believable though and feels shoe-horned into the plot to somehow legitamise them as real characters.
Perhaps the most excruiating character to watch is Kerrys who is described on the film’s official site as “a one woman crusade fighting for female liberation”. You can spot which one she is on the poster, she’s wearing a bikini and has ‘slut’ tattooed on her stomach. She is sadly not a strong female character “fighting for female liberation”, she is obnoxious, unlikeable, wooden and cartoonishly drawn.
Aside from the problems that Clarke has with creating believable characters and characters that we would want to spend more than three minutes with without blowing out our brains, the film is also a complete and utter mess. Loud bursts of music and frenetic editing make the film an incredibly tiresome watch and I’m sure the array of out of focus shots were a deliberate choice but I have no idea why.
Sadly I suspect that my words will have little effect on fans of Clarke but this film is a horrible, obnoxious and idiotic waste of two hours. It puts me in mind of the worst fast food – it’s cheap, unsatisfying, the packaging is flashy and garish and everyone knows that there’s no real substance or quality but people will continue to swallow the rubbish down and pay for the privilege. This is not about snobbishness or elitism but simply taste and quality. Why watch this poor excuse for a film when you can sample the wonderful delights that cinema has to offer.
220.127.116.11 is released in the UK on the 2nd of June. Please take my advice and go and watch something else.