Limey, The

Published: Saturday, Oct. 23 1999 4:16 p.m. MDT

In the saucy thriller "The Limey," Terence Stamp makes his turn as Wilson, a cockney ex-con who has come to Los Angeles to avenge the death of his daughter.

This gutter rat, who has spent most of his daughter Jenny's lifetime in jail, manages to appear as if he's looking down his nose at the thugs and trolls on L.A.'s streets, as if he's acting on divine inspiration. As staged by director Steven Soderbergh ("Out of Sight"), "The Limey" is as merciless and swift as Wilson.

The film is also, in the oddest of ways, a sequel. It picks up after the dead-end social drama of "Poor Cow," the 1967 Ken Loach film that was notable at the time for showing a live birth, and the drab day-to-day lives of Londoners living on welfare with no prospects. Stamp played the cocky cockney Dave Wilson, who scampered from one small-time caper to another. Footage of the lean, handsome young Stamp from "Poor Cow" is used for flashback sequences in "The Limey."

The cinematic "Limey" is stylish and inexorable, like its protagonist. What it possesses that its hero does not is a sense of humor; it toys with what its director calls " '60s baggage." Peter Fonda is the music-business vermin who may have murdered Jenny (Stamp is convinced of Fonda's guilt, even before we get any evidence, as if Soderbergh is carrying on Ken Loach's socialist tenet; anybody as rich as Fonda has to be guilty of something).

Fonda is, while not exactly a revelation, something entirely new here. Rather than the stern, stoic hero he has often played — a second-generation Xerox of his father, Henry — in "The Limey," Peter Fonda is a smug yet affectionate daddy figure. You can see why Jenny would end up with him; Fonda cares, even though his concern is a type of self-absorption.

"The Limey" is about culture clash as much as anything else. Stamp and Fonda are survivors — in real life and in this movie — and the film admires their indomitability. This minor, bloody valentine to European noir glides handsomely.

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