Say what you might about the Rise of the Footsoldier franchise – for example, that the films are boringly repetitive or that they wallow way too much in macho, estuary-accented crime-flick cliches – at least they’re consistent. And loyal: ever since the first one came out in 2007 and dramatised the lead-up to the real-life Essex Range Rover murders de 1995, the subsequent four films have used roughly the same cast members throughout. But given that three of the major characters carked it in the first movie, the film-makers have no choice but to keep making prequel stories, set in the time before our drug-dealing Essex-underworld anti-heroes turned up brown bread in Rettendon.
The problem is that the actors – perhaps too manly to use Botox or fillers, or because the budgets aren’t big enough to spring for Irishman-style CGI skin-smoothing effects – keep ageing, even though they have to play younger versions of their characters. This means, por ejemplo, that 50-year-old producer/co-star Terry Stone, effectively the lead this time in a plot that charts his bouncer-turned-drug-vacuum Tony Tucker’s road to ruin, has to play Tony in his late 20s.
como consecuencia, the actor’s handsome but well-weathered face is half buried under a mop of combed-forward, early-90s Shaggy-style hair, and quite frankly it’s ridiculous. As he sits on a series of hideously upholstered settees snorting rails of coke alongside Roland Manookian, who has donned a long-haired wig playing Craig Rolfe, the two of them don’t bring to mind demi-monde gangsters in their prime so much as Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke playing Kevin and Perry. Maybe the next instalment will feature Stone in a short-trousered school uniform, smoking roll-ups behind the bike sheds.
The appearance of Vinnie Jones in a small role here serves to underscore the franchise’s indebtedness to Guy Richie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – the ur-cockney-criminals film – in which Jones also featured. He’s also an amusing reminder of the heyday of early rave and rage culture, along with the presence of Black Box’s Ride on Time on the soundtrack.
Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins is released on 3 September in cinemas.