Johnny Was shares many of the trappings of a bad double-crossing / gangster movie: there’s the terrible title, some accents of questionable provenance and of course, the ubiquitous shootout in an abandoned warehouse (we discuss this in one of our Really Awful Movies Podcasts: just how many abandoned warehouses are there in well-off, industrialized inner cities?).
Still, Johnny Was (presumably named after the awesome Bob Marley song or the superlative Stiff Little Fingers version) has enough surprises to make it a perfectly viable fritter-away-a-rainy-afternoon flick.
There’s the eponymous Johnny, the perpetually grim-faced Vinnie Jones who usually looks like he’s suffering from irritable bowel syndrome but gives a very charming and well-rounded performance as a former IRA thug trying to turn his life around in a Brixton safe house. His neighbors include what an IMDb wag describes as “the healthiest looking junkie he’d ever seen,” in the form of the lovely Samantha Mumba as Rita and Ras, a towering Rastafarian pirate radio DJ played by ex-boxing champ Lennox Lewis! (goes without saying that the soundtrack is really bad-ass)
When two IRA guys escape Brixton prison, Johnny is tempted back into the life he once led when he agrees to harbor them (that whole “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in” motif from The Godfather and referenced a bunch in The Sopranos).
IRA bad man Flynn is played by Patrick Bergin, sporting a bizarre Belfast accent but not nearly as bad as the gold standard set by Titus Welliver in Sons of Anarchy. (At least in Johnny Was they had the good sense to explain away Vinnie Jones’ London-area accent by his growing up there.)
They soon run afoul of some Jamaican thugs and there’s much double-crossing, shooting up, threats, secret deals, running from the cops, drug dealing and even Roger Daltrey! WHO would’ve thought?
Some nice locales (Brixton Market) and good performances generally, put this over the hump.
*** (out of 5)