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Dead Babies
cast: Paul Bettany, Katy Carmichael, Olivia Williams, Hayley Carr, and Kris Marshall

writer and director: William Marsh

97 minutes (18) 2000 widescreen ratio 16:9
Odyssey Quest / Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Based on Martin Amis' vicious satire of 1970s' drug culture, Dead Babies is full of sex, violence and shocking imagery, swearing, drug taking and death. All of this is wrapped up with hyper-kinetic direction and a thumping soundtrack, clearly inspired by the club culture of the 1990s; this film hoped to scale the heights of Withnail And I but managed only to plumb the depths of Rancid Aluminium.

The main characters of this film are all scumbags. We have alcoholic members of the aristocracy, thugs, dwarves, conmen, nymphomaniacs, drug-dealers and homosexual psychopaths. They all get together for a weekend of debauchery and find pretty quickly that things aren't going as well as they'd hoped. As the drugs seep through the system and old memories re-surface the film climaxes in murder and suicide. This might sound pretty good. It's not. The film fails for two main reasons; firstly, the fact that it tries to be a satire and secondly because of poor direction.

When the book was written in the 1970s, clearly Britain still had a rather oppressive set of moralistic social conventions. As a result, merely talking about taking loads of drugs, and men having sex, and people killing each other broke taboos. Amis also went further in actually making fun of 1970s' alternative culture by portraying various parts of it as utterly worthless and unpleasant. The problem with the film version of Dead Babies is that it doesn't have the same set of social conventions to rebel against and 1990s' drug culture doesn't resemble 1970s' drug culture at all. So instead of a satirical book that challenges taboos and those who claim to break taboos you have a film made at the height of mainstream club and drug culture making fun of people who simply don't exist anymore. When was the last time you actually met a psychedelic chemist who preached free love? How about a decadent aristocrat? So Dead Babies fails utterly as a satire and, because of when it was made and how it was made comes across more as a wrong-headed ode to sex and drugs and all things Ibiza with all intellectual pretence stripped away. The film is little more than an episode of Ibiza Uncovered.

Dead Babies clearly owes a lot of its plot to Agatha Christie. The main plot of the film and book is that a group of friends are together in a country house and one of them is a murderer. But, the director seems rather uninterested in plot when he could be using up the film's runtime with camera trickery and shocking imagery that's so na�ve and adolescent it serves as a testament to a deeply conventional and unimaginative creative mind, rather than the twisted genius it clearly aspires to. By the time the director is finished shocking us, the film is almost over meaning that only the last 20 minutes actually has any real plot.

This is a deeply uninspiring and humdrum piece of filmmaking. Despite featuring Paul Bettany and Lucy Carmichael, the ensemble cast do little to distinguish themselves and spend most of the film screaming and mugging. Now that popular culture has moved on, this film stands as a stark reminder of how utterly brainless and insipid club culture really was.

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