Directed by Jamie Payne | Written by Neil Cross | 129 min | ▲▲△△△ | Netflix
The only way to say the name of this movie’s lead is, “LOOFAH”, because that’s how Idris Elba says it. I’m still scratching my head over that title.
I faithfully watched the Luther series over its five seasons and very much enjoyed the grim, gothic tone of this sometimes outrageous British crime drama. The show got plenty of mileage on how this London cop, DCI John Luther (Elba), was constantly breaking the law in order to bring justice against terrible people. Setting the egregious politics aside, Elba was terrific in the role, and surrounded by a solid cast including Saskia Reeves, Paul McGann, Indira Varma, Dermot Crowley, and Nikki Amuka-Bird.
But the very best thing about Luther was the relationship between him and his nemesis, genius killer Alice Morgan, played by a never-better Ruth Wilson. Their connection was the fuel that really made the show and its relative quality took a dip when she wasn’t on it. It was never the most plausible drama, but it verged on silly without her lodestar.
While they haven’t found a way to revive Alice for this feature film return of Luther, it’s still good to see Elba as the deeply suffering detective again. For the first two acts of this movie we get what feels like a bigger-budget, extended episode.
What becomes entirely disappointing here is that in the final act it steps over the line into something genuinely exploitative, beyond even the bounds of what this material — with its chronic interest in serial killers and their motivations — had previously established. Tonally it just gets weird and wrong, and even in terms of its own internal logic, a long way from anything like plausible.
Luther’s been thrown in prison to start with, and while the details of why he’s there and all of the show’s mythology escaped me — I probably should’ve done a rewatch of the final TV season — the scene where he finds a way to escape jail is a whole lot of fun. It challenges that great early segment in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for sheer thrills.
What then follows is the kind of vibe we’ve come to know about Luther and his relationship with his colleagues — they respect him but are also appalled at his methods. Schenk (Crowley) is retired, but still helping out when he can, while the impressive Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo) is now in charge.
They’re all trying to find a particularly sadistic killer who has a whole team of people working for him, using their hacking skills to dig into people’s secrets on the internet and then blackmailing them into doing terrible and self-destructive things. The killer, David Robey, is played by Andy Serkis, and his character is so outrageous in his sadism he’s almost a clown. He gets no help from the hair and make-up department: he sports a wig so unlikely I can barely find words to describe it. Fortunately he wears a cap in a lot of scenes, which helps.
But while the picture benefits from a lot of solid London locations and an exciting mid-movie chase from Piccadilly Circus down into the Tube, after that the plotting just falls apart. I suspect the writers of this movie have begun to think of John Luther as a tweed-coated superhero and his antagonists like supervillains, the bigger and more cartoony the better. But just as there’s a line between ridiculous and stupid, there’s a line between lurid and just gross — and once we’ve boarded a ship for icy Norway all those lines get crossed.
It’s too bad. Maybe they should’ve just stuck with the series.