Producers: Bren Grass, Noel Clarke, Jason Maza and Matt Williams Director: Martin Owen Screenplay: John Wrathall and Sally Collett Cast: Raff Law, Michael Caine, Rita Ora, Noel Clarke, Sophie Simnett, Jason Maza, Franz Drameh, David Walliams , Dominic Di Tommaso and Lena Headey Distributor: Saban Films
There’s nothing wrong with employing the stories of Dickens as springboards for modern reworking; the originals are good enough to survive even the worst sort of abuse. So when Martin Owen’s “Twist” reports rather demurely in the closing credits that the script by John Wrathall and Sally Collett is “based on a novel by Charles Dickens” without bothering to mention which one, that’s no reason for castigation. But there are, unhappily, plenty of others.
The protagonist, of course, is Oliver, who informs us in introductory voiceover that his story will have no songs and no happy ending. (Of course, one can’t believe everything he says.) He then recalls his idyllic youth with his single mom (co-scripter Collett), especially their time painting and visiting art galleries. Her death ends his happiness, and sends him into the streets to make his own way.
Oliver grows up to be a graffiti artist (a talented one, naturally) who’s also expert at parkour, which comes in handy when he’s fleeing authorities, like the guard at the museum where he often beds down for the night. It’s as the result of one such pursuit that he meets Dodge (Rita Ora), Batesy (Franz Drameh) and Nancy, or “Red” (Sophie Simnett), all members of the gang of thieves run by Fagin (Michael Caine), who invites him to join the troupe.
As it happens Fagin has just lost one of his minions, Tom (Dominic Di Tommaso), a light-footed fellow who fell to his death from a rooftop after lifting an important envelope from a safe for his boss. Luckily—or not—Fagin’s nasty colleague Sikes (Lena Headey) retrieved the envelope from Tom’s body, but is holding on to it for insurance. Sikes is also very possessive of her girlfriend Nancy, and shoots angry stares at Oliver, or Twist as he prefers to be called, when she begins to suspect that he and Red have feelings for one another.
At this point “Twist” morphs into a heist movie, with Fagin targeting a sleazy art dealer named Crispin Losberne (David Walliams), whose gallery the team must infiltrate in order to switch a valuable painting he intends to auction off for a copy. (Why is part of the big final reveal.) Things go predictably awry, and quick improvisation will be required to pull off the plan. By this time a couple of dim-bulb detective (Noel Clarke and Jason Maza) will also be involved, pressuring Twist to turn on his mates. Everything culminates in a rooftop confrontation in which Oliver is hanging by his fingers from a ledge as Sikes sneeringly threatens to let him fall—a bargain-basement nod to “Saboteur” and “North by Northwest.”
“Twist” wants desperately to be hip and cool, what with all the running around (cinematographer Håvard Helle has a fetish for full-face tracking shots of Law as he streaks about) and flashy locations (production design by Tony Noble) and costumes (Charlie Jones). But the visual pizzazz, Jeremy Gibbs’s frantic editing and Neil Athale pounding score can’t compensate for the screenplay’s clumsiness, or for the lackluster performances from Law, who rather looks like Ryan Philippe as much as his father Jude (and is just as sullen), and the other young cast members.
As for the older ones, Caine and Headey seem to be operating on the principle of balance in the universe. In a role that rarely requires him to stand up, he’s utterly laid back, while she masticates the scenery with lip-smacking glee. Walliams oozes oily malice, and Clarke and Maza make an irritating duo.
There have been quite a few decent adaptations of “Oliver Twist.” This isn’t one of them.