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“Sexy Beast” reviewed

Unfortunately, the Paramount+ TV series Sexy Beast, a prequel to the 2000 Jonathan Glazer crime drama of the same name, fails to accomplish any of these things. Despite being spawned from a lean, 85-minute thriller, it stretches out each incidental line of dialogue and subtle allusion into an 8-episode slog that still somehow doesn’t cleanly bridge to where the film picks up. Instead of finding its own identity or successfully building out these characters’ backstories, it comes across as a far lesser imitation of its idiosyncratic source material. Perhaps too accurately to its protagonist’s feelings, I was desperate to escape this show’s dreary British backdrop so I could once again be under the movie’s scorching Iberian sun.

For those who haven’t seen the original, Sexy Beast is a sweaty, weirdo, sort-of heist flick about a retired British thief named Gal (Ray Winstone) who enjoys sunbathing in the Spanish countryside alongside his loving wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman). However, one day, his idyllic paradise is broken up when a “friend” from his previous life, Don (Ben Kingsley), arrives and demands that he take up one last job. It’s like a high school reunion where instead of awkwardly interacting with an ex, you have to contend with an unhinged sociopath who wants to do you and your loved ones harm. Among the film’s many memorable aspects, Kingsley’s performance as Don is an absolute tour de force that won him the Oscar that year, his every line inspiring dread and the threat of impending violence. It’s a riveting exclamation mark of a movie that doesn’t particularly invite elaboration.

Unfortunately, whether we want it or not, that elaboration is here in the form of a TV prequel. Following Gal (now played by James McArdle) and Don (Emun Elliott) when they were partners in the ‘90s, we watch as the two build a reputation in the British criminal underworld. Almost all the characters from the original are here, including Teddy Bass (Stephen Moyer), who the pair work under as they try to pull off a seemingly impossible job. Meanwhile, Gal begins a courtship with his future wife, DeeDee (Sarah Greene), despite the fact that he’s already engaged to his high school sweetheart.

The series’ first and most obvious problem is that it never breaks out of its predecessor’s shadow. It charmlessly mines the movie’s memorable lines, shots, and visual motifs, coming up short next to Glazer’s experimental direction. Memorable, off-the-cuff moments that passed by in a fit of delirium in the original are needlessly expounded on here. For some reason, do you want to know why Don says “Preparation, preparation, preparation” that one time? Well, this prequel has the answers for you.

Beyond this, it also fails to meaningfully build on the film’s core characters. Going into this show, Don was undoubtedly the most difficult detail to pin down. Kingsley’s volatile performance in the original is borderline impossible to replicate, and it’s a classic example of an antagonist who benefits from a relatively small amount of screen time because it creates far more tension when he finally does appear. By contrast, here Don is in every single episode, and almost all the menace around him dissipates as this rendition attempts to paint him in a much more sympathetic light. There’s nothing wrong with Emun Elliott’s performance, but he was given a relatively impossible task of living up to Kingsley’s uncomfortable curse-laden tirades. It also doesn’t help that the direction they take the character in comes across more like a superficial trick meant to generate pity than a genuine attempt at empathy, and broadly doesn’t square with the sinister presence we see later.