There are movies that are showcases for a bravura performance, and then there are bravura performances in search of a movie, and in the case of the bafflingly bad Legend, we see the latter. Tom Hardy is great - it would be disingenuous and stupid to deny that he's not terrific as gangster twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray, who became celebrities on the backs of their criminal infamy in '60s London. Playing twins, of course, is like the actor's cheat code: it's an easy way to win adulatory reviews no matter how vanishingly subtle or cartoonishly broad the different personalities are drawn, and there's unmistakable movie magic joy to be wrung from seeing the same person on, like, two sides of the same frame.

It's disappointing to see Hardy, who absolutely can do better, settling in for such gimcrackery, but like I said: he's mechanically superb, whatever else we might think of him. And that's far more than we can say for Legend itself, which is an alarming botch of a biopic on top of being an all-round cheesy gangster movie that never met a dopey clichΓ© it didn't want to dry hump in a back alley. It's a British production starring an all-Brit cast, but writer-director Brian Helgeland is a born Yank, which is maybe why the the film is so lousy with "Oi! Wot's dis about, bruv?"-type dialogue, part of the overall sense that we're watching a knockoff of Guy Ritchie's sometimes-lively, often-incohoate gangster pictures. That's when it isn't simply re-running Goodfellas and Casino down to some extraordinarily specific details (especially in the way the film uses narration).

The over-familiarity would be less of a problem if Legend wasn't so appallingly unexceptional. Helgeland's work as a director has been largely dominated by films that use a lot of style but not particularly interesting style, just a bunch of flash and flair that sits on screen like a twitching corpse. There's no distinction among the overqualified faces in the supporting cast, spearheaded by Emily Browning, flopsweating all over everything in the truly inert role of Reggie's wife Frances, the film's snappy, ironic narrator, responsible for injecting it with all the snazzy energy it doesn't actually possess. The plot is a snarl of criminal politics that Helgeland doesn't put any effort into clarifying, and if anything tries to make more daunting and faux-epic than it actually is. It's a deadly mixture of confusing, tedious, and trite, and long before the wheels rattle off the Krays' criminal empire, there's nothing interesting left in the ride.

Except for Hardy, sure. He plays both Krays - calculating Reggie, psychopathic Ronnie - with clear delineations between how they talk, move, think, wear clothes, and it's impressive as hell. But it's simply not enough to excuse how flat, trivial, and boring the rest of Legend proves to be. You can catch a great Tom Hardy performance anywhere; why not do it in the form of a movie that has anything on its mind?