“Billy’s friends were a******s, but so was he. And you stick by your friends…”
This is the morale/theme/battle cry of “London Betty,” the new film from Hale Manor Productions. A quirky and occasionally hilarious comedy about a group of misfits locked in a bizarre battle with their town’s incredibly corrupt mayor. Billy (Seymour) and Volgo (Russo, with a top-notch Russian accent) are petty thieves who spend most of their day casually stealing common items (including a pool skimmer and a barbeque grill—the latter while it is still being used at a barbecue) and selling the ill-gotten gains to needy parties found via a community bulletin board. Betty (Lewis), from London (hence the title), comes to America to be a big-time journalist (to work for a reclusive editor played by “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Daniel von Bargen) and discovers that the nefarious Mayor is embezzling from the town in order to build a theme park in his back yard. She meets Billy after he steals her pet rabbit and sells it back to her—twice—and the crass, profane thief slowly finds himself falling for her.
There are times when “London Betty” is laugh-out-loud hysterical (particularly when FT’s own Phil Hall is on-screen playing a transvestite military tactician). Most of the time, it’s merely amusing, but the tone and characters are always consistent. There’s no deep message hidden in the off-beat silliness. You stick by your friends, as the narrator intones, and you help people out because they need it (even if you tell yourself that it’s in your best interest to do so). Director Seymour shines as the eternally-annoyed anti-heroic Billy, who continually ends up doing the right thing in spite of himself. Russo, too, is predictably terrific as the charmingly sleazy Volgo. In fact, there isn’t a bad performance in the film—every actor is perfectly over the top in precisely the way called for. The setting and story is so often surreal that there is literally no other way for the characters to play, so eyes are rolled, lines are delivered with great enthusiasm and battles are fought with fireworks.
Technically, “London Betty” can be a bit hit or miss, like most independent movies. The camerawork is serviceable, occasionally betraying budgetary or time constraints. The truly film-savvy may wince occasionally, but the casual indie fan won’t bat an eye. What elevates it above dismissable slapstick is the consistency of tone and character. No character does anything in the film because the plot requires it—indeed, the plot is as much along for the ride as the audience is. This is a character-driven story set in “London Betty” world and your enjoyment of the film relies heavily on your love of the silly. Give it a chance and you’ll find yourself sharing in on the deeply-buried affection the characters have for each other.