Bruno, a sadistic criminal, wants clever con man Leo out of the way. Leo and his equally clever wife, Lily, are up to something. So too is Julius: he hires Leo to kill Gloria, Julius's wife. Leo doesit, but then Julius shows up with the murder on tape, saying Gloria isn't his wife - it's blackmail. Leo's bookie, Troy, is also closing in, wanting to be paid. Bruno and Lily as well as Bruno and Julius have their own scams running, and Leo is their target. Maybe Leo can get Troy off his back, avoid Moose (Bruno's huge enforcer), send Gloria's corpse out of England, turn the tables on Bruno's murderous brother Caspar, and outfox Lily. Or is Lily his fox? It's a three-ring circus.
Circus is an appropriate title for this busy British three-ring caper film. John Hannah is the amiable ringmaster, a gambling junkie and "the smartest man I know" according to all his acquaintances. Which doesn't quite explain why everyone targets him as a patsy in their elaborate scams and schemes. There are plots aplenty here: frumpy accountant Peter Stormare hires Hannah to murder his wife and then videotapes the deed for collateral in a blackmail scheme. Upwardly mobile thug Brian Conley pressures Hannah to run his casino while plotting his demise. Sexy Famke Janssen puts on her slinky best femme fatale pose as Hannah's girlfriend with a questionable past, playing the players against one another. That past catches up with her when Fred Ward, an old partner in crime she abandoned holding the bag years back, arrives for payback. Almost too clever for its own good, Circus is an ingeniously engineered mercenary free-for-all thick with secret alliances, double-crosses, hidden identities, and a plot that twists into a new direction every five minutes. What it misses in all the self-conscious plotting is a human equation. Hannah's grinning, easygoing attitude and Janssen's sultry air of mystery help fill out the characters, but the only real satisfaction coming at the end of this crack caper is its sheer logistic perfection. --Sean Axmaker