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Weekly Alibi Hooligan and Again

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 31, 2000:  Scottish writer Irvine Welsh became a cult sensation upon the release of his 1994 novel Trainspotting. By the time director Danny Boyle's smash screen adaptation hit theaters in 1996, Welsh was off and running with a string of gutter-dwelling novels chronicling the drug-taking, lager-swilling, soccer-crazed antics of Edinburgh's underclass. British style magazine The Face soon dubbed Welsh "the poet laureate of the chemical generation," and his grungy-chic prose made him the new darling of the literary world. In the wake of Trainspotting's massive international success, though, it was only a matter of time before the silver screen came to call again, begging for another book to adapt.

Welsh's second jaunt into moviedom is, interestingly enough, a version of his short story collection, The Acid House. Welsh himself penned the script, insuring a strict adherence to his storylines and an even greater helping of indecipherable Scottish slang (which is subtitled this time around). Welsh and director Paul McGuigan (best know for his youth-edged documentaries for British television) have basically chopped three stories from The Acid House and tossed them onto the screen in their "100 percent pure, uncut" form. Fans of Trainspotting, hungry for more edgy, Techno-laced mischief will find bits and pieces of what they're looking for in The Acid House. Sadly, though, this trilogy of shaggy tales can't quite live up to the beat-happy, skag-life sparkplug that was Danny Boyle's masterstroke.

In the first of three unrelated stories, "The Granton Star Cause," an underachieving youth named Boab Coyle (Stephen McCole) suddenly finds himself having the worst day of his life. He's kicked off his soccer team, he's booted out of the house by mum and dad, he gets dumped by his girlfriend and he loses his job. The twist in the tale comes when it is revealed that Boab is actually a modern-day Job, forced to endure a hellish existence on Earth thanks to a vengeful God (Maurice Roëves). God's reasons for choosing Boab actually make for some irreverently amusing theology worthy of Kevin Smith's recent God-centric comedy Dogma. Unfortunately, it is Welsh's grotty sense of humor that dominates this Kafka-esque black comedy of love, soccer and religion. Those who appreciate a good sick joke may laugh. Viewers who believe substances like poo and puke belong only in the bathroom won't make it as far as the next two stories.

More down-to-Earth, but still vaguely unsatisfying is "A Soft Touch," the film's second tale, in which an easygoing lad is mercilessly manipulated by those around him. Poor Johnny (Kevin McKidd of Trainspotting) is talked into marrying his pregnant girlfriend Catriona. The result is less than marital bliss, with Catriona spending her nights catting about town while pushover Johnny stays home with the kid. Things get worse when a loudmouthed, cocksure new neighbor moves into Johnny and Catriona's tenement and begins abusing Johnny's neighborly nature. Like the "The Granton Star Cause," this is a tale of betrayal and redemption -- the outcome of which, however, is far different. Here, McGuigan's lack of experience as a dramatic director pokes through the skin of the story. As often as he muffs punchlines in the first story, McGuigan misses the dramatic highlights here. "A Soft Touch's" final twist is tripped over without a drop of visual or verbal emphasis, diffusing all the pathos Welsh intends.

For the film's centerpiece, Welsh and McGuigan have chosen the book's title tale, "The Acid House." Here, a rave-loving soccer hooligan with a weakness for LSD finds his life turned upside down. One fateful, rainy night in Edinburgh, Coco Bryce (Ewen Bremner, the unintelligible "Spud" from Trainspotting) finds himself taking a very bad trip indeed. Whacked out on acid and zapped by a freak bolt of lightning, Coco mysteriously switches bodies with a baby being born in a passing ambulance. The baby takes up residence in Coco's body (much to the delight of his girlfriend who's all to eager to "re-educate" her infantile squeeze from scratch). Coco, meanwhile, finds himself stuck with a couple yuppie parents (who are shocked to discover their precious baby speaking in foul-mouthed street slang). As in the previous stories, there is the idea of a man given the opportunity to remake his sorry-ass life. As before, the results are sad and slightly ironic. The Acid House's limited budget is clear throughout -- never more clearly, though, than in this final sequence, which relies heavily on some bargain basement special effects.

Though this trio of tales all have their bright spots, the film is lacking in a great many departments. The filmmakers are aiming for a rawer, less polished film than Trainspotting. Welsh, they practically scream, is a grubby underground sensation and should stay out of the glossy, popular light of Hollywood. Theoretically, this approach should make The Acid House a more accurate reflection of Welsh's hard-core street prose. Instead, the film just comes off looking cheaper and less skilled. Director McGuigan just doesn't have the cinematic talents of his predecessor Danny Boyle. Despite many of the same stylistic touches (and a couple of the same cast members), The Acid House comes across as little more than a weak version of Boyle's cult classic.

If you're a fan of Welsh's prose desperate for another Trainspotting fix, you may find yourself temporarily satiated by The Acid House -- just don't expect the high to last as long.

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