Here’s a pretty good little Scottish film which could be a spin-off of The Godfather, if you’d take the subplot about how lounge singer Johnny Fontane’s career gets a boost when Don Corleone makes a producer “an offer he couldn’t refuse” and make a whole movie out of it. Except that instead of a smooth Italian crooner, the singer here is wee Toni Cocozza, a bumbling Glasgow vocalist with a bad perm!
Toni is played by Ian Hart, who has a fresh face (he has a certain Hobbit quality!) and compelling on-screen presence. He does a good Sinatra, too, as he croons Ol’ Blue Eyes classics like “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Way” through the film. Even more enjoyable to me was Kelly Macdonald, who plays the adorably kooky Irene, a cigarette girl who entertains a flirtatious friendship with Toni. Macdonald, best known for playing Renton’s underage girlfriend in Trainspotting, is a real treat, cute, funny and touching too. Had all of the film been a romantic comedy sprinkled with swing music, I’d be enthusiastically urging you to see it.
Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by its aspirations to also be a gangster drama. Maybe this could have worked too, if the mobsters had only been a device to test Cocozza’s ethics, forcing him to choose between being bullied into success or sticking to being an honest little nobody. Yet the heavies played by Brian Cox and Tom Flanagan take up nearly half the movie’s length, pushing Toni into dull, uninventive heists or drug deliveries. This is the stuff of forgettable straight-to-video B-movies, and writer-director Peter Capaldi is clearly capable of more.
Just watch the lighter scenes between Macdonald and Hart, where his interesting and quirky dialogue is wonderfully performed. Or look at the musical number, halfway between mockery of a not-so-talented lounge singer and a sincere homage to Sinatra’s music and attitude. Capaldi made a visually appealing, offbeat and sweet flick there, kind of like Swingers but with colorful Scottish accents! Too bad he had to be like every young filmmaker and have his guns and drugs in the picture. Still, there’s enough of the good stuff in “Strictly Sinatra” to make it worth seeing.