Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Review: 'T2 Trainspotting' deftly ages a drugged-out bunch

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The other needle drops in T2 Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's berserker encore for four Scottish heroin junkies.

Not a syringe loaded with smack this time. It's a phonograph needle lowered onto spinning vinyl for barely a second but the propulsive beat's unmistakable: Lust for Life.

Before you can say Iggy Pop, the needle and memories are snatched away. Too tempting for a prodigal addict returning to Edinburgh, scene of too many nod-offs, too few healthy choices.

"Choose life," urged Renton (Ewan MacGregor) 21 years ago in Trainspotting while doing little to secure it for himself. Several years clean now, a health scare sends him home for a reunion with the worst friends stolen money can buy. It's good, funny, frightening and appalling to see them again.

T2 Trainspotting is everything fans of the original want, with all hands back on deck as Boyle's devilish playthings, four brothers in track-scarred arms. The wicked sense of humor is intact with stakes higher than before. It's astonishing how easily these actors re-inhabit these roles, aging them to another level of sordid perfection.

MacGregor's Renton remains the closest to respectable these hooligans can manage. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) now prefers Simon, making ends meet by running his auntie's failing pub and blackmailing well-to-do perverts. Dimwitted Spud (Ewan Bremner) is the only mate still hooked on heroin, ignoring his baby mama and child.

Begbie, the dark heart and crushing soul of the lot, is once again portrayed by Robert Carlyle with a ferocity bordering on the Baker Act. This tightly-wound ball of hate is imprisoned, naturally, but not for long thanks to a masochistic escape plan. Boyle provides helpful, playfully inscribed subtitles early on, attuning our ears to Begbie's brogue so each profane threat clearly comes through later. Both Trainspottings are electrified by Carlyle's brand of hooligan cool.

Each of the guys is dealing with consequences of misspent youth. Renton ran out on his mates with $12,000 in drug money. Simon and especially Begbie want payback, not necessarily the money. Spud shot up or snorted the share Renton left him out of pity, that the others don't know about. The same sense of compassion might now salvage Spud's life or ruin it.

Working from Irvine Welsh's novels, Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge create a wonderful balance of nostalgia and discovery for these characters. Boyle's breakneck style is tempered at times, given slight pause by memories; flashbacks from T1 and Kodachrome childhoods. Ghosts bond these mates together while deception threatens to pull them apart.

Boyle sprinkles T2 Trainspotting with clever contrasts between then and now. In the original, Lust for Life accompanied Renton's mad dash from authorities. When we meet him again he's still running — now on a treadmill in a swanky health club. Lou Reed's Perfect Day, a heroin lullaby before, is wistful piano tinkling now. A toilet figures into the action, much cleaner than before.

A few callbacks feel shoehorned in for old times sake. Renton's "choose life" speech gets updated for a digital age, sounding phonier than before but perhaps that's the point. Spud's budding avocation as a chronicler of Begbie's violence allows some needless retracing. More often Boyle surprises with the past, like Kelly MacDonald's encore as the girl who got away from everything.

Like its predecessor, T2 Trainspotting aggressively shocks and charms, a singular example of cinematic bravura now improbably duplicated. That phonograph needle drops again later, this time sending Iggy's anthem coursing through our veins. Lusting for life at the movies? Choose T2.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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