The Magazine

Dark Laughter

Depravity at the heart of contemporary England.

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By KYLE SMITH
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[Lionel] went back inside to confront the scarlet fortress of the crustacean. .  .  . There were two skewers (one with a curved tip) and a nutcracker. He picked up the gangly device: like the bottom half of a chorus girl made of steel. .  .  . [T]he key moment came ten minutes later, when he threw down his weapons and reached for the enemy with his bare hands.

It’s a scene right out of London Fields, in which Keith Talent undergoes similar torment when challenging a restaurant to make a curry so hot he can’t eat it. But Lionel Asbo is building to a genuinely unnerving scene that negates Lionel’s attempted development and is (unlike the lightly handled incest at the beginning) painted in tones of suspense, and even horror, rather than silliness. 

A sick joke can be funny, but only if it doesn’t invite or allow too much genuine feeling for its characters. Lionel Asbo is an uneasy, and at times unsatisfying, mix: too outrageous to be taken in earnest, but also too human to be purely comic.

Kyle Smith is a movie critic for the New York Post.