"This story is inspired by a single true event," a sombre pre-credits caption informs us. "It left three men dead, two serving life imprisonment and another living under an assumed identity. The rest is fiction, as are all the characters."
This prologue to Essex Boys immediately strikes a false note: basically, what we've got here is a fictional crime story trying to borrow all the gravitas of a based-on-fact drama. Yet, no matter how much director Terry Winsor tries to shoot his Essex high street like it's Vegas, and no matter how much Charlie Creed-Miles's voice-over is supposed to sound like the Estuary English equivalent of GoodFellas' Henry Hill, no one will ever accept the place as being either glamorous or ridden with anything worse than petty crime.
The drab, made-for-TV look and feel of Essex Boys doesn't exactly help, (unsurprisingly, director Winsor's CV is primarily TV-based), and neither does the presence of small-screen regulars Sean Bean (Sharpe) and Alex Kingston (ER). They hardly brim with big-screen fizz, with the former's LAHD SHAHTIN' and the latter's nostril-flaring utterly failing to snatch the attention. Even Charlie Creed-Miles, who showed up as a real talent worth watching in The Last Yellow, fails to rise above the Thames-coloured sludge, merely letting his jaw hang slackly when the script demands some kind of emotional reaction.
The only thing about Essex Boys which does tempt you to stick with it is a plot which at least has a fair stab at some twists, even if the final `shock' revelation does resort to an ultimately unsatisfying film noir cliché. But the tawdry sets and lack of atmospherics sadly make this yet another eminently missable British offering which should find itself a more comfortable home alongside The Bill and Bad Girls than it will next to the likes of The Patriot and The Perfect Storm.
Dodgy pills, domestic violence, animal cruelty, rape, murder, smuggling, torture and gratuitous nudity - no matter how many grimy crime clichés Essex Boys tries to jimmy in, you just can't take it seriously as a thriller. Even if it is "inspired" by a real-life homicide.