"Filth," adapted from "Trainspotting" author Irvine Welsh's 1998 novel, is either lucky to have James McAvoy playing its lead character — a venal, corrupt, vice-ridden reprobate of an Edinburgh detective — or oddly unfortunate.
Although it's hard to ignore the full-throttled gutter intensity mixed with bad boy charm that McAvoy brings to Bruce Robertson, a man whose larkishly terrible behavior hides deep wells of psychic pain, it doesn't pair well with the bigger-than-life cartoon cesspool writer-director Jon S. Baird orchestrates around him. Even tastelessness requires some consistency of acrid flavoring, and "Filth" uneasily mixes a not-uninteresting character study in self-destruction with '90s-nostalgic stylings that can only be called Danny Boyle Lite, plus some regrettable pop psychology.
Buzzing around McAvoy's virtuosic turn are some great actors, including Jim Broadbent as a wacko doctor, Eddie Marsan as Bruce's milquetoast chump of a best friend and Shirley Henderson as Marsan's lustful wife. But they're like margin doodles rather than real characters. Only Joanne Froggatt of "Downton Abbey," as a widow unaware of Bruce's awfulness, offers a brush stroke of humanity.
The best you can say about the over-the-top "Filth" is that it's a brisk wallow, with enough elbow room to marvel at McAvoy's sinkhole aria of a performance.
MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood.