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Bigga Than Ben is a crime-fuelled tale of two likeable but wayward Russian "pieces of Moscow scum" who arrive in London intent on bettering themselves and amassing an easy fortune. But it's not long before Spiker (Andrei Chadov) and Cobakka (Ben Barnes) realise that, legally, they aren't going to get very far. So, aided by the dodgy Artash (Ovidiu Matesan) and sidekick Spartak (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), they learn to shoplift from supermarkets, rip off banks, joyride on the tube and turn mobile phones into crack. . Finding themselves drawn into a shadowy underworld of backstreet drug deals, chav nightclubs, refugees and nymphomaniacs, life begins to turn sour. The highs begin to fade. Spiker badly misses his girlfriend back in Moscow, and seeks consolation in drugs. When he slips into serious addiction and Artash double-crosses them, Cobakka finds himself forced into making some life-changing decisionsWritten by
Bigga Than Ben kicked off well and had me laughing in stitches. Described as, "A true story about two pieces of Moscow Scum," the film follows draft-dodging Spiker and Cobakka hitting London as a haven for fraudsters where they will get rich and enjoy capitalist heaven.
The Brits can be annoyingly pernickety about ID and other bureaucratic niceties, so these two baseball-hatted Russian punks engage various dodgy characters to fast-track them into beating the system. Cheque book scams require a bank account. Bank accounts require proof of income and utility bills. Utility bills require an address that isn't a shed, and so on. The crooked son of a millionaire shows them the ropes on basic shoplifting and petty theft from old ladies. He also uses some letraset so they have basic documents for which he charges only fifty per cent of all income.
There's lots of hilarious (but not overly offensive) racial stereotyping as Spiker and Cobakka practice their new skills with more gusto than dexterity. Taken for terrorists or muggers as they try to 'help people with shopping bags' and ending up with only a packet of envelopes when they rob a local store. They take offence over the wrong things and show strong Russian spirit in the face of perceived aggression (unless the other guy is bigger).
The gags fall fast and free, with inventive cinematic touches as they explain things to camera or press a 'subtitles' button for an Irishman's incomprehensible English. Spiker and Cobakka's have confiscated shoplifting goods returned to them by a middle-eastern grocer who feels sorry for them, and their own accents recall 'Kazakhstan'. It's all very Borat and, although the original story must have had room for being a major hit, Sacha Baron Cohen it isn't.
What is worse, it seems to start running out of material halfway through. A 'step-by-step instruction on how to cook heroin' is not as funny as it should be. The film starts to take itself a bit too seriously as we are invited to feel sorry for these . . . ermm . . . pieces of Moscow Scum.
It's a commendable effort, and a tantalisingly seductive look at London's underbelly from the hygienic comfort of legitimacy. But Bigga Than Ben never quite scales the indie heights we would so like to see it conquer.
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