Profane, irreverent bluster by five very loud men might carry a choice scene, but it cannot carry an entire movie.
The makers of the British drama "44 Inch Chest" needn't have bothered trying without the supremely talented crew they rounded up.
Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane manage to make a passable time out of this densely packed but ultimately slight exercise in extreme manliness.
Throw these five together in a room to cuss and bellow — and that's mainly all first-time director Malcolm Venville does — and some sparks will fly. Despite the dark story of spousal abuse and abduction of a cuckolded husband's rival, it's fitfully fun to watch the actors trade turns as alpha male of the moment.
Winstone and his "Sexy Beast" co-star McShane reunite with that macho film's screenwriters, Louis Mellis and David Scinto, all four sharing executive producer credits on "44 Inch Chest."
The straight-ahead story begins with great promise — the aftermath of a terrible domestic disturbance, furniture toppled, broken glass everywhere, a dog cowering under a chair, the scene playing with Harry Nilsson's romantic dirge "Without You" as musical backdrop.
Lying in the rubble is Winstone's Colin Diamond, a big man about town reduced to sniveling, heartsick puppy after his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), tells him she's met someone else.
After a call for help to one of his mates, a very literal posse comes to Colin's aid. He and pals Meredith (McShane), Old Man Peanut (Hurt), Archie (Wilkinson) and Mal (Dillane) kidnap Liz's French waiter beau (Melvil Poupaud) and take him to an empty house, where they make clear the intent is for Colin to kill this interloper.
Venville avoids the common pitfall of other TV commercial and music-video directors, whose flash styles often clutter their feature-length debuts with manic action and quick cuts.
With "44 Inch Chest," Venville is almost too static, the storytelling coming mostly out of the dialogue, violating the old Alfred Hitchcock rule that movies should not merely be pictures of people talking.
Mellis and Scinto are also playwrights, so the talky structure of "44 Inch Chest" is little surprise.
Venville does break things up a bit through flashbacks to Colin's confrontation with Liz. Thankfully, the violence that erupts is not too explicit, though "44 Inch Chest" easily could be interpreted as just a nasty piece of misogyny.
Yet for all the men's snarling bravado, Liz — both real woman and the idealization Colin conjures as his judge and jury in fantasy sequences — emerges as the movie's strongest figure, the only one with wisdom to impart.
The five main actors present a marvelous excess of testosterone, each character a Neanderthal to varying degrees — McShane's Meredith a quietly menacing homosexual, Hurt's Peanut a braying puritan, Dillane's Mal a dapper mad dog, Wilkinson's Archie a ferocious momma's boy who, in fact, still lives with his mother.
All present contradictions that would have been intriguing to explore, but the filmmakers do not delve much beyond the characters' caveman facades.
Yet Winstone, so often cast as a man's man, nicely mixes it up here, flitting seamlessly between the roar of the brute and the weepiness of the betrayed lover.
A coin toss is pivotal to the movie's action, and a game of heads-or-tails could have been employed to decide which actor would play which role.
They all have the range to bring something different and interesting to each character. Given the screenwriters' stage background, what if they had done this as a play instead? And what if they did it in round-robin style, the actors switching roles each night?
That might have been an exercise for some real chest thumping.