Eric D. Snider

Layer Cake

The protagonist of "Layer Cake," whose name we never learn -- the credits call him XXXX -- says he's not a gangster. "I'm a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine," he says.

The distinction may not be important to the police of London, where this is set, but it is to him. He has no fondness for guns, and in fact doesn't even own one. He handles his business methodically and without flair and has no patience for employees who, intoxicated by amped-up performances in mass media, seek to conduct the business of dealing drugs like the high-living thugs you see on movie screens. In fact, XXXX (played by Daniel Craig) is tired of the business altogether, planning to take his last million or so and retire.

It should not surprise you that he is drawn back in before he even gets out, enlisted by his superior Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) to find the missing cokehead daughter of an old school chum (played evilly by Michael Gambon). Missing persons aren't really XXXX's bag, but it's not like the preeminent coke dealer of London can really call Scotland Yard for help finding a lost drug addict, can he?

Meanwhile, XXXX's life is complicated by the reckless actions of Duke (Jamie Foreman), a hothead who stole 1 million Ecstasy tablets from some Serbs and led them to believe that he was acting on XXXX's orders. Now the Serbs have sent Dragan (Dragan Micanovic), their top goon, to retrieve the merchandise and issue an appropriate punishment.

The plot is more elaborate and complicated than I have even suggested, with both threads -- the missing girl and the stolen E -- intersecting and revealing themselves to be far deeper than they first appeared, just the way you like this sort of film to go. Coolly, stylishly directed by Matthew Vaughn (working from J.J. Connolly's novel and screenplay), it recalls a slightly toned-down "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (which Vaughn produced), with occasional grim humor and ample plot twists. It does nothing revolutionary, but it handles the basics with entertaining aplomb.

Grade: B

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, brief strong sexuality, some nudity, some strong violence

1 hr., 45 min.

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