I can't honestly say I've been its biggest fan, but the Rise of the Footsoldier series has evolved, albeit in a bullheaded, thicknecked manner appropriate to many of its characters. The 2007 original was a slick merger of British poverty-row cinema's peculiar obsession with the Rettendon Range Rover murders and the football casual movie; after going further astray during 2015's tardy follow-up, it gained a renewed heft and momentum in 2017's Part Three, which went the prequel route and shifted the emphasis onto Pat Tate, the Essex hardman played by Craig Fairbrass. Fairbrass is a great, hulking screen presence, as he was when tussling with Sly Stallone in 1993's Cliffhanger, and he looks to have found in Tate a signature role not so far removed from, say, Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills or Gerard Butler's Mike Banning. It's certainly a role: that of an eternally effing-and-jeffing, hairtrigger-tempered sociopath you really wouldn't want to encounter up a dark alley after kicking-out time on a Friday night. As his spectacularly miswigged associate Tony Tucker (Terry Stone) describes him: "You're the only fucking cunt I know who takes an E and still wants to kill people". As a non-friend puts it, Pat Tate is "a 6'4" psychotic yeti". Part Three described the circumstances by which Tate opened a club in Southend and expanded his crime empire onto the continent; Marbella, which is to say this saga's Part Four, charts the crisis that arose when Tate realised, in the mid-Nineties, that he was running low on pills. How much of what we're seeing is God's honest, and how much the printing of a taproom legend, remains unclear; presumably there are still geezers associated with Tate knocking around whom the filmmakers wouldn't want to mug off unduly.
Under the new stewardship of Andrew Loveday - ascending to the director's chair (and taking a prominent onscreen role) after producing earlier instalments - Marbella has an added sweep and swagger. To Part Three's helicopter shots of Southend Pier, Part Four attaches some sun-saturated overseas location work; the business of disreputable ex-pats wandering the Costa Plonka in tight Fiorucci tennis shorts returns us, not unenjoyably, to the milieu of Nick Love's slightly underrated The Business. There are signs, too, that this series is becoming a little more knowing about its baseline thuggery - that someone behind the camera has realised, ninety or so minutes after the rest of us, that as portrayed here, Tate is a bit of a joke, or certainly a man headed for a bathetic fall (in a lay-by on the outskirts of Rettendon, which these films may be heading back round to). The violence this time round is equal parts leering and slapstick: it's Tate duffing up a rotund barman he believes to be called Fat Stevie, only to be told "Stevie's fatter", or asking a waitress for a fork to replace the one he's just put through a rival's hand. Meantime, Stone's Tony and Roland Manookian's Craig (accessorised with a neckbrace after mouthing off around the young Nigel Benn) are working up a prattish double-act, giggling their way through a B-plot on a succession of illicit substances as though this fourth Footsoldier were really a second Human Traffic. It could just be that someone realised the A-plot - basically a mechanism to allow Tate to lamp a whole new set of faces - isn't worth taking seriously, and Loveday's pacing really isn't any better than that of his predecessors. Marbella gives it proper large for forty minutes, then suffers a marked comedown, as we realise there's not much more to it than hanging out with self-appointed top boys and listening to choons from the target audience's halcyon days; it rallies for a sad-trombone punchline, and a post-credits set-up for a putative Part Five. We get no closer to knowing what the point of these films are beyond turning a quick buck, but I'll take these things semi-baffling and occasionally lively over outright objectionable. Your reward for staying the course, entirely appropriately, is a Jim Rosenthal voice cameo.
Rise of the Footsoldier 4: Marbella is available on DVD through Signature.