If you’re a fan of edgy British crime flicks, chances are you’ve seen or at least heard about the cult classic Sexy Beast. The stylish 2000 thriller gave us Ray Winstone rocking a pair of tiny orange swim trunks alongside a ferocious Ben Kingsley, serving up clever writing and visual panache. It may not have lit up box offices, but it left an impression.
Now, over twenty years later, Paramount+ is taking us back into this gritty world with a prequel series of the same name. Rather than basking in the Spanish sun, we’re transported to 1990s London to discover the early exploits of Gal Dove and his loose cannon sidekick Don Logan. We catch the petty thieves on their grind to bigger scores, mixing it up with mobsters and porn stars as their friendship frays apart.
So how does this small-screen take on Sexy Beast stack up next to its cinematic godfather? Well, there are loyal fans left wanting and newcomers who see glimmers of potential but ultimately feel unfulfilled. The core characters can’t escape comparisons to their accomplished film versions, and attempts to recreate signature moments without matching the original vibe fall flat more often than not. Still, with the right expectations, there may be enough unpolished appeal here to charm crime genre devotees who don’t need everything slick and perfect. Just don’t expect a masterwork that lives up to the motley magic of Glazer’s debut.
Filling Some Big Shoes, With Mixed Results
One of the biggest challenges facing any remake or reboot is living up to the original cast, especially when said cast delivered powerhouse performances that wowed critics and fans alike. And make no mistake, Sexy Beast set a high bar back in 2000 thanks to Ray Winstone’s charming sleaze and Ben Kingsley’s volcanic intensity.
So how do the new players stack up? As Gal Dove, James McArdle nails down the character’s affability but lacks the weathered magnetism and streetwise edge Winstone portrayed so flawlessly. Similar issues face Emun Elliott’s take on Kingsley’s Don Logan, a figure defined by live-wire volatility. Elliott manages the adenoidal voice well enough without ever capturing that dangerous spark in the same way. Kingsley’s Oscar-winning work borders on impossible to replicate, but that disconnect is still keenly felt.
The show does offer a standout turn from Sarah Greene as Deedee, bringing more depth and intrigue to the character than Amanda Redman’s version. Greene adds a compelling layer in exploring Deedee’s adult film career, hinting at story potential beyond the central duo’s petty crimes. She Exudes organic chemistry with McCardle’s Gal, adding some needed heart to the prequel.
Among the supporting ranks, Stephen Moyer feels miscast as underworld boss Teddy, lacking the quirky menace Ian McShane brought on film. But Tamsin Greig surprises as Don’s equally unhinged sister, sinking her teeth into the villainous role. Unfortunately, outside of Greene and occasional sparks from Greig, lightning fails to strike twice for this ensemble. While few give embarrassing performances, too many wind up in the shadow of their cinematic counterparts, dimming the new series’ shine in areas where brighter wattage was needed most. The result leaves fans wishing for Kingsley and Winstone in their prime rather than serviceable imitations.
Navigating Cult Classic Ties
When continuation projects revisit beloved properties decades later, they often struggle balancing fan service with finding their own voice. Unfortunately, Sexy Beast leans too far into rehashing moments from Jonathan Glazer’s original thriller without enough purpose justifying its existence. This trip down memory lane answers questions few were asking in the first place.
The series hits all the signature beats, from Gal lounging poolside in those iconic orange trunks to Don’s “preparation” catchphrase. But instead of organically incorporating these elements, too many scenes feel like checking boxes on a list of references. Callbacks meant to reward loyal fans lose their magic when so bluntly included, stripped of the surreal atmosphere Glazer infused them with initially.
Beyond the clumsy references, Sexy Beast struggles to stand on its own two feet as a prequel narrative. Unlike Better Call Saul or other successful prequels, the show fails building dramatic tension when we already know most characters’ fates. Leaning on this inevitability as Greek tragedy does might have worked, but the series lacks the elegant writing or performance punch required to make that land.
Showrunner Michael Caleo does expand Deedee’s backstory in one of the few improvements over the film. But attempts to generate empathy for players like Don Logan fall flat, not gelling with what we later see on screen. The end result neither rewards Sexy Beast devotees nor excels as introductory viewing on its own terms. It exists in this middle ground that primarily speaks to group three: no one.
Perhaps the producers thought nostalgic name recognition was reason enough to tell this unnecessary origin story. But retracing steps so literally without bringing enough imagination or purposeful perspective ultimately does little except diminish the eccentric movie that inspired it all. Like trying to perfectly recapture a crazy night from long ago, Sexy Beast’s magic refuses to be bottled twice. The parts work fine, but the soul gets lost along the way.
Uneven Writing Undermines Potential
On paper, Sexy Beast seems to offer the best of both worlds: high-stakes heists and cons balanced with relationship drama centering flawed characters. In theory, Michael Caleo had rich ingredients for an absorbing crime saga here between Gal, Don, and the London underworld. But subpar writing quality undercuts the end result more often than not.
The biggest issue is tone. With gritty violence paired alongside attempts at breezy humor, the plot awkwardly waffles between playing things straight or with tongue-in-cheek abandon. Unlike similar series that excel at walking this tightrope through confident writing, Sexy Beast feels confused in what it wants to be. Neither thrilling enough as a tense thriller nor amusing enough as a caper lark, it falls into an odd middle ground.
This uneven tone bleeds into the characters and their increasingly redundant subplots. Attempts to build a central relationship triangle between Gal, his fiancé, and Deedee grow tiresome fast since viewers already know how things will shake out. Caleo tries injecting pathos for Don to mixed success, but surrounding players come across more as cardboard cutout villains than fully-realized threats. Their nefarious scheming lacks imagination, leaning on gratuitous violence and dated quips about getting stabby or violent.
When focused on executing clever plots, Gal and Don shine brightest here. A few memorable heists provide satisfying moments for the duo where ingenuity trumps brute force. But these redeeming capers get overshadowed by redundant drama and uninspired confrontations with undercooked heavies. With tighter writing cutting filler subplots and deepening criminal elements, Sexy Beast might have found its footing better. But as is, uneven writing trips up too much of its potential.
Missing the Film’s Signature Style
So much of what made Jonathan Glazer’s 2000 film uniquely impactful was its bold directorial vision. His experimental flair for visuals and palpable mood brought Sexy Beast to life as much as the script itself. Between arresting images like a boulder crashing into a pool to a heist set entirely underwater, Glazer infused standard fare with surreal panache.
By contrast, the Paramount+ series plays things safer and more grounded. Attempts to recreate Glazer’s moments without matching his avant-garde approach undermine the final product instead of enhancing it. Where the movie trafficked in inspired weirdness, the show leans into convention.
This shift shows up everywhere from framing to color design to music cues. The prequel lacks the pop art visual touches, trippy editing, and hypnotic audio creating such distinct atmosphere before. It often feels closer to a standard cable crime drama than something befitting the Sexy Beast name.
While a continuation project needn’t rigidly copy another’s creation to succeed, the tangible absence of Glazer’s singular style is keenly felt here. The movie worked so well because no one had quite seen these elements blended in such fashion before. By playing things safer and more mainstream, the prequel loses much of the film’s enticing eccentricity. It’s competently made at points but missing the electric innovation at the original’s core. For all its ties to its namesake on paper, this small screen translation lacks the soul of what once made Sexy Beast such a signature sensory experience.
Deedee’s Story Shines
While much of Sexy Beast pales beside the original film, one area where the prequel unquestionably excels is fleshing out Deedee’s backstory. Sarah Greene brings warmth, intelligence, and depth to the character, building on Amanda Redman’s more limited screen time in the movie.
Whereas Deedee existed on the fringes of the 2000 story, here her promising career in the adult film industry takes center stage. We explore her push for creative autonomy and attempts breaking out from exploitative directors. Unlike repetitive threads following Gal’s stale relationship drama, seeing Deedee find her voice provides legitimately thought-provoking commentary on female empowerment. Greene makes you care far more about one porn star proving doubters wrong than every petty clash between posturing would-be gangsters combined.
These complex struggles could easily inspire a spinoff all their own. In giving Deedee’s journey room to breathe, the showrunners ironically outshine their own leading men to highlight what connects best. Ultimately Deedee represents Sexy Beast’s heart – what little of one it has. Had the series committed itself more wholly to her underdog rise above oppressive men, it might have discovered a gripping identity better than any Guy Ritchie knockoff could offer. Even when it falters elsewhere, Greene’s stellar work hints at untapped potential that future projects would be wise to tap into moving forward.
Worth a Peek for Select Fans
As prequels go, Sexy Beast can’t be called an unqualified success. Despite strong performances from Sarah Greene and others, it spends too much time in the shadow of Glazer’s idiosyncratic film without justifying its own existence. Uneven writing underserves potential criminal plots while attempts at relationship drama drag without the pull of uncertainty. And for all its ties to the cult classic conceptually, the homespun style lacks the electric innovation that made its inspiration so unique.
Yet despite shortcomings, crime drama devotees open to loose adaptations could still find pockets to enjoy. Fans of British gangster tales may get a kick out of petty plots and cocksure patter – just don’t expect Mescine depths. Gal and Don’s back-and-forth rapport has some charm when firing on all cylinders, even if chasing past magic dooms things from the jump. And Glazer completists will appreciate glimpses behind the scenes, however shallow.
Just know what you’re getting isn’t on par with what came before. Viewers coming in blind may leave wondering what the original fuss was about. But for genre junkies with open minds and realistic expectations, Sexy Beast repurposes enough solid pieces from its parts bin to warrant a look as a serviceable lark before better fare. It won’t go down as a great prequel, but it has enough scruffy personality to appease faithful fans wanting another quick fix.
As prequels to beloved cult films go, Sexy Beast can’t be called a roaring success. Despite a game cast and decent building blocks, uneven writing and a failure to justify its own existence hamper the proceedings too often. It’s a workmanlike crime lark that fits reasonably well as a companion piece, but lacks the spark of creative vision that made Jonathan Glazer’s original thriller so special in the first place.
- Strong performance by Sarah Greene as Deedee
- Entertaining London criminal underworld atmosphere
- Some clever heists and capers by Gal and Don
- Expands on beloved cult film characters
- Uneven tone and writing quality
- Fails to match original's signature avant-garde style
- Doesn't justify itself as a prequel