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16 Years of Alcohol

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 09/26/03 15:07:29

"It's Ratcatcher, it's Romper Stomper, it's Drive Me Crazy, it's... alright"
3 stars (Average)

The latest entry in the recent revival of Scottish film does two things all the others do - 1) It features a dank look at the Scotland of a few decades ago, 2) It stars someone from Trainspotting. Actually, it stars two people from Trainspotting. Actually, it's Trainspotting without the predilection for 'junk' and dead babies who crawl on the ceiling.

Richard Jobson was a right bastard once. A former frontman for the punk band The Skids, he went through a time of extreme violence, over-indulgence in alcohol and other niceties, and a general loathing for the world. Thankfully, as it tends to do from time to time, unrequited love kicked the shit out of him and left him wanting to be a better man. So he reformed, kicked the drink, quit beating guys up, and tried to better himself.

Jobson managed his transformation eventually, recording a bunch of poetry albums in the 80's, writing a few books (one of them being the semi-autobiographical basis of this film), then working as a journalist and TV host. Quite a rise off the bottom for a guy who once took pride in kicking the crap out of anyone who looked at him the wrong way.

And thus, 16 Years of Alcohol, the film, is the culmination of that 'betterment'.

In the movie version of the book, Kevin McKidd plays arch-headkicker Frankie Mac, as he louts about, spilling blood, generally being apain in the ass and reacting against society by creating his own heirachy among the weaker minds who unquestioningly follow him. Frankie Mac is king shit, at least in his own little world. He gets respect because he demands it. And anyone who fails to bow gets a boot to the face.

But then there's 'the girl'. The always heart-wrenching Laura Fraser appears as a smart-talking gal who sees through Frankie's act to discover the intelligence beneath, and as they start a short romance, Frankie ditches his gang, drops the punk threads and promises to ditch the drink and violence... but such a change can't come overnight, and when he relapses, the girl is gone like a shot.

And it's here that 16 Years of Alcohol begins to lose its way. McKidd delivers the kind of balls-out performance that has been his trademark in recent years, giving everything he has to sell the Frankie character as someone we should fear, yet feel for, yet Frankie seems to reinvent himself every three scenes, from smart kid to angry thumper to giggling romantic to raging drunk. When McKidd is given space to move, he storms the screen with a skill usually only seen in Oscar-winners (and even then, not many of them), but just when McKidd's character starts to grow on you, he's out the back door being someone else. No sooner was I getting re-attached to the talents of Laura Fraser (sigh), when she was suddenly gone. For good.

If that's part of the point, that the violence and booze turn our lives into a higgledy-piggledy mess, then it's misdirected, and in the end nullified by the continuing preaching from the pulpit that McKidd's character spins as he decides on, and justifies, a new twist in his tale. "I want the girl, I hate the girl, I hate the violence, I need the violence, I hate this acting crap, I'm sorry I said bad things about acting... please sir, can I have some more?" To my way of thinking, the film ends before the real story does, and that's a shame when you know what we do about Jobson's life-after-booze. Either there's too much being told in too short a time, or not enough being told to satisfy the viewer.

See it, if for no other reason than to pay respect to McKidd and the way his talent has blossomed over the last ten years. Even when he first appeared on screen in Small Faces and Trainspotting, he showed he had the stuff to stick around. Now, there can be no doubt.

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