Ashley Walters first became well known as Asher D in the London garage/grime outfit So Solid Crew. Since it was a gigantic collective of competing egos two things were on the cards – the band was unlikely to produce enough revenue to support all 19+ members, or it was going to fall apart spectacularly. Either way spelt trouble. Luckily for Walters, he had a second line of work, having been acting even before the band became well known with their single 21 Seconds. Its success got Walters better job offers on TV and he gradually progressed from bit parts to leading roles, usually playing the streetwise London youth you probably didn’t want to be on the wrong side of. Life and Lyrics reinforces the trend established by 2004’s Bullet Boy, with Walters as the DJ of a South London rap crew who falls for a girl in a rival outfit, to the sound of much sucking of teeth.
It’s a very familiar plot – see Romeo and Juliet – though not a bad film, with street slang (I watched it with the subtitles on, I admit) and, generally speaking, an attention to realism that papers over a few of the dramatic cracks. This is best brought home by the various crews antagonistically rapping at each other, in club scenes heavy with an atmosphere that suddenly breaks when someone comes up with something genuinely funny. It’s done for real, surely? Wordplay aside, the guns, the bling and the bragging don’t tip the scales much towards originality, and at times even some of the actors look a bit dubious about what they’re expected to do and say – qualms about “keeping it real” perhaps – though the fact that Walters’ lot, the Motion Crew, are multi-ethnic at least points to the reality of modern London. And the fact that his Juliet, Carmen in fact (Louise Rose), is a trainee barrister is also a welcome acknowledgement that black people, too, might want to be middle class. In movies, usually, they don’t. Though admittedly Carmen’s personal ambition doesn’t seem that high on the film’s political agenda.
So, a bit this and a bit that – gauche and funny, clichéd yet fast paced, held together muscularly by Walters and soundtracked by a very mid-noughties roster of artists, Sway and Estelle, Deep Varacouzo and loads more I’ve never heard of.
It’s not for me. Of course it’s not. But I enjoyed its swagger. Maybe if you were the target demographic you’d give it an extra star. Or knock one off.
© Steve Morrissey 2006