'Adulthood' wants to be a grim, dark exploration of the drugs, gangs, knives and happy slapping underbelly of London culture but below average standards of writing, performance and direction intrude all too frequently and it ends up coming off as a grimmer and more violent soap opera rather than the cathartic 'Boyz n the Hood' for the East End it aims for.
The story takes up the thread of events described in 2006's predecessor film 'Kidulthood', written by Noel Clarke, who also writes, directs and stars here.
It's six years on, and the kids have grown up. For some, the violence comes more naturally and their lives have taken on more real edge. Where 'Kidulthood's protagonists were experimenting, eventually with deadly consequences, 'Adulthood's characters are a few steps further along their paths, and more stuck into their roles.
Sam Peel (Clarke), an ensemble character in 'Kidulthood' moves to centre stage. The earlier film climaxed with Sam killing Trife and now, he has just gotten out of prison and is travelling around London with some guilt-based loose ends to tie up. But he isn't able to do so incognito.
The word is out about his release and Jay (Deacon), Trife's best friend, is bent on revenge and looking for someone to carry out a pay-back killing. Sam's brother Omen (Anderson), who has followed in his brother's footsteps and is in the the lower levels of London’s drug and gang culture, and is unwittingly tricking into being one of those sent out to find and kill Sam.
Meanwhile, Sam meets former friend Lexie (Johnnson), and they embark on a relationship of sorts - but Lexie also is also in touch with drug-dealer Jay and ends up being pulled both ways.
Eventually, the characters and events coalesce in a climactic scene in which Sam outwits Jay’s drug dealer cronies - poorly played caricatures, and not the only ones in this film - and Trife's uncle, who assaulted Sam while he was in prison, for good measure before meeting for a final confrontation with Jay himself. A rather trite ending ensues.
Generally, an 'average-play-on-screen' feel invades the whole film and, in the end, there is an enormous gap between what ‘Adulthood’ is and what it thinks it is and wants to be.
Aside from that, in pure terms of entertainment, it’s ploddingly paced and Clarke’s screenplay is also below par. Even the occasional snippets of good writing - such as Lexie's bedroom soliloquy on the eagerness of today’s youth to move into the adult world and the bleak landscape they discover when they get there - is thought provoking despite some bum notes. But mostly, sense struggles to escape from the morass of overdone accents, hyperactivity and cliché. On the directing side, Clarke is far from shy of a 'haunting' close up of himself or four and struggles both technically and when trying maintain appropriate moods.
Ironically given her soap opera past (two years as Vicki Fowler in 'EastEnders'), Johnson’s Lexie is the character which consistently rises above mediocrity or worse and into the territory of a genuinely affecting performance, and it would not be over-optimistic to expect even better things from her on the big screen in the near future.
Generally, though, it's not good enough.