Layer Cake Matthew Vaughn

If Layer Cake, the British gangster flick that chronicles the class system at work in underground drug cultures, looks and feels a lot like Guy Ritchie’s films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, there’s good reason — his producer, Matthew Vaughn, makes his directorial debut here. Vaughn, working from a screenplay by J.J. Connolly based on his novel, tells the story of an unnamed gangster middleman (Daniel Craig, in a star making performance) and his attempts to finish one last big score and retire from "the life.” Along the way the unnamed protagonist encounters a convoluted series of fuck-ups and double-crosses involving a million ecstasy pills, the pills’ former owners who happen to be Serbian terrorists, and gangs of rival dealers. The film takes Ritchie’s frantic pace but not his elegant directorial flair, nor his comedic touch, resulting in what should be a straightforward thriller but ends up a bit of a convoluted mess. A series of red herrings (like the kidnapped daughter of one high-up gangster) and distractions (like hottie Sienna Miller) don’t end up serving the story, only contributing to its muddiness. Vaughn is clearly a reasonably talented director — which is why he was offered the job directing the next X-Men flick — but Layer Cake falls just short of his ambitions. His stubbornness comes across in the two "alternate endings” that he was forced to shoot at the studio’s behest; the film’s real ending was done on the sly, then revealed at the film’s first test screenings. (It performed well enough to stay.) Other extras are relatively perfunctory — a Q&A with Vaughn and Craig, an EPK-ish "making of”— and don’t reveal much of interest other than that Jude Law girlfriend Miller’s post-film rising star made her a more prominent feature in marketing and promotion. Plus: commentary, deleted scenes. (Sony)