Jamie Foreman as Danny in Empire State (1987)

Just One Smoking Barrel

A decade before Guy Ritchie gave us cockney gangsters in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" Ron Peck gave us "Empire State" a London gang story. In some ways it is similar to Ritchie's movie, several characters, several stories all which manage to interweave in some way and a gangland element as we have someone trying to take over their mentor's patch. But whilst Ritchie gave us a sharp, comical drama Peck's "Empire State" lacks that buzz and to be honest watching it now is quite a laborious experience only pepped up by several recognizable faces and an 80s London before it underwent regeneration.

To try and describe the plot to "Empire State" would be to spoil things because as already mentioned this is a drama with several characters and storylines which seem separate but all interconnect somehow. It starts with a woman waking up in a crashed car in a London back street where she enters the premises of a magazine and discovers a message on an old word processor splattered with blood. We then jump back 24 hours earlier where we meet a variety of people from a desperate cabbie, a Newcastle lad looking for a missing friend, an American property developer, a rent boy and the owner of "Empire State" a London gangster who not only runs the club but also manages a boxer. And there are plenty of other characters which to be honest makes it a little confusing.

Martin Landau as Chuck in Empire State (1987)

Now as the story pans out these stories and characters interlink, the girlfriend of the desperate cabbie works at Empire State, Frank the owner of the club has trouble with a young lad who he mentored now trying to muscle in and plans to do so riding the shirt tails of the American developer. The thing is that for most of the movie it is not clear as to what is going on and at times Peck seems distracted by delivering scenes of homo-eroticism be it a stripper at a gay bar or the rent boy at work. And because all of this is delivered in a very dry almost disconnected style it makes it laborious, failing to draw you into the mystery of what is going on and who connects to whom. Maybe it is because with so many characters and stories it is a bit too ambitious and struggles to deliver enough energy to grab you.

In the end watching "Empire State" now becomes a bit of a nostalgic trip as we see London Docklands before it was redeveloped and the numerous actors who would go on to become recognizable British stars. It is at times more entertaining when you spot Eddie Marsan as a club goer, Gary Webster as a heavy or Perry Fenwick as one of Frank's men. In fact spotting people becomes more interesting than watching the actual stars of the movie which include Martin Landau, Ray McAnally and Jamie Foreman.

What this all boils down to is that "Empire State" is now more interesting rather than entertaining because whilst this multi character and multi storyline drama comes together it lacks the style and energy as well as intrigue to get you gripped. But then seeing London before all the redevelopment and spotting actors who would go on to bigger things keeps you watching.