"Green Street Hooligans" serves up a lot of bone-crushing violence in an offbeat context with considerable style and energy, but the steady diet of brutal street fighting makes it all but impossible to connect with this picture, despite whatever visceral appeal it may offer.
Elijah Wood's Matt Buckner is a Harvard journalism major two months from graduation when he's expelled for dealing drugs. He's not the guilty party, but he feels unable to take on the real culprit and his formidable political family. For taking the fall he accepts a $10,000 payment and heads for London to visit his sister (Claire Forlani), where he immediately meets the younger brother, Pete (Charlie Hunnam), of his brother-in-law Steve (Marc Warren).
Pete is a rangy, charismatic fellow who is not merely a soccer fan but also the leader of the Green Street Elite, a "firm," a euphemism for gang, that rabidly supports the West Ham football team (never, Matt is informed, call it soccer). Matt, at loose ends, swiftly becomes a member of the gang -- even though Pete's sour second-in-command, Bovver (Leo Gregory), is automatically opposed because Matt is a Yank. It is crystal clear that Bovver spells big trouble.
The GSE is committed to continual warfare with firms of other teams. When the GSE is not slugging it out in the streets, sometimes with lethal consequences, they are boozing it up in their favorite pub. That the firm's members are by and large gainfully employed and have families frankly makes their addiction to violence seem all the more pathetic.
Wood is a sufficiently talented actor to be able to make persuasive the shattered and rootless Matt's vulnerability to the GSE with its endless opportunities to express aggression and its strong sense of belonging. But he lacks the physicality to seem a credible brawler, to the detriment of the picture.
The strongest plus is director and co-writer Lexi Alexander's ability to make understandable how these young -- and not-so-young -- men become intoxicated by violence, but this is not the same thing as being able to identify or empathize with them.
At the end of the day they're just a pack of thugs, and the best that one can hope for them is that the old Mafia adage applies: "We only kill each other." Too bad these guys don't work things out on the mat or in the ring; ironically, Alexander is a former kickboxing and karate champion who made a deeply affecting Oscar-nominated dramatic short, "Johnny Flynton," about a boxer who strives to contain his aggressive feelings to his matches.
Alexander has tremendous energy, passion and filmmaking flair, but "Green Street Hooligans," which has its share of unfortunate dialogue, careens out of control, culminating in all-out carnage interlaced with sentimental heroics.
The only emotion it ultimately evokes is one of relief that after 106 minutes of grown men getting off on beating each other up it is over.
'Green Street Hooligans'
MPAA rating: R for brutal violence, pervasive language and some drug use
Times guidelines: Far too intense and brutal for children
An Odd Lot Entertainment presentation. Director Lexi Alexander. Producers Gigi Pritzker, Deborah Del Prete, Donald Zuckman. Screenplay by Alexander, Dougie Brimson, Josh Shevlov. Cinematographer Alexander Buono. Editor Paul Trejo. Music Christopher Franke. Stunt coordinator/fight arranger Pat Johnson. Production designer Tom Brown. Art director Ricky Eyres. Set decorator Sara Won.
Exclusively at the ArcLight, Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, (323) 464-4226, and The Grove Stadium 14, 3rd Street and The Grove Drive, (323) 692-0829 (#209).