For his introductory scene in “Dom Hemingway,” Richard Shepard’s entertaining if inconsequential gangster farce, the incarcerated safe cracker of the title (Jude Law, transformed through the magic of a beer belly and a mouthful of green teeth) declaims an ode to his penis in the prison shower room.
This love poem to himself, rich with hyperbole, florid metaphors, and Homeric similes, amuses for a while, but a little goes a long way. Five minutes is pushing it, and an hour and a half would be suffocating. Luckily, Shepard recognizes this and has his hero puff himself up, repeatedly, only to be drastically deflated, revealing the pitifulness of his braggadocio.
Dom comes from a long line of cockney hard guys in movies such as “The Krays” and “Sexy Beast.” Like them, he embodies an unrestrained id, with a talent for lyrical invective and scatology. He’s a bully and a narcissist with a weakness for sentimentality. But unlike these other charming sociopaths, Dom is just a noisy loser whose megalomania and criminal code of honor are excuses for a lifetime of screwing up.
That code led to his incarceration. Refusing to rat on his mob boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir, who comes off like a younger version of the Most Interesting Man in the World), taking the full rap for a heist, and released after 12 years of keeping silent, Dom has a lot of anger and other unsatisfied urges to fulfill — sex, drugs, and making a lot of noise among them. He also wants his share of the money. Accompanied by his epicene best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) — his voice of reason and biggest fan — Dom pays a visit to Fontaine’s villa in the South of France, where his big mouth gets him in trouble once again.
And so his life goes, one opportunity bombastically blown after another, until a ditzy woman whose life he saves in an unconvincing moment of altruism sets him off in the direction of what he really wants — love. In particular, the love of his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Now that’s a betrayal of the criminal code of honor, at least in this essentially nihilistic genre.
Shepard prepares the way for this mawkish cop-out, lightening the mood with a bright palette of primary colors enhanced with gaudy lighting. Red is a dominant hue, not the red of blood or ire, but of lollipops. Shepard backs wacky montages of excess with well-chosen pop songs, plays around with slow motion and other effects (one scene seems an homage to the opening of Martin Scorsese’s “Casino”), and introduces chapters with whimsical title cards. On the one hand it can be fun; on the other hand, it’s about as meaningful and self-indulgent as the opening scene.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.