Monday, July 9, 2012

Daniél Espinosa's lazy Swedish crime thriller EASY MONEY opens Wednesday in NYC

Can a movie -- the Swedish film EASY MONEY, directed by Daniél Espinosa (the filmmaker is shown below) -- that begins so fast and frenetically, while introducing so many characters that you can barely keep up, also be unforgivably lazy? Try on this sequence of scenes for size. Our "hero," and I use the term loosely, is following a fellow (another loose hero) that he has been told to bring in to his crime boss. He follows, off-and-on losing his prey -- who, in turn, is being followed by a pair of bad guys. To keep following his guy, hero #1 must suddenly board a bus -- which he just misses. No problem. He simply takes the next bus that arrives, checking first to make sure it is going to the same location. Not a taxi, mind you -- to the driver of which he could shout, "Follow that bus!" -- but another city bus! You still with me? (Some viewers would have exited the theater at this point).

OK: we cut to a wooded area, empty of people, where the pair of bad guys have now caught hero #2 and are having a field day beating the shit of him. Suddenly, hero #1 is also in the same vicinity -- some bus service they have in Sweden! -- still apparently following his prey. As he does this, he looks down in the weeds and foliage around him and spies -- a gun! Now, I realize that we New Yorkers find guns on our streets all the time (I myself found one the other afternoon on the corner of Third Avenue and 28th), but this guy is in dense underbrush. Oh, well: when you need something, god -- or a very naive filmmaker and/or screenwriter -- will provide.

Still with me? Good. So how is our hero (played very well, given certain script obstacles, by Joel Kinnaman, shown above) going to save the day, not to mention the man he's been directed to bring in? He finally does something smart: Going back to the villains' car, parked nearby, he sets off the car alarm and then hides. The baddies leave their prey, by now beaten nearly to death, and run back to see what going on with their car. Great. Except, now, how is our hero going to extricate, in some believable fashion, this poor, beaten-to-near-death fellow, not to mention himself, from the clutches of the villains? Sure, he does have that gun, but, still.... I suppose you want to know how all this is accomplished, right? Well, so do I -- because, at this point, the filmmaker simply cuts to the next scene, in which hero #1 has hero #2 back in his apartment, where the injured man (a fine performance by Matias Varela, below) is being nursed back to health.

The above sequence is what they call a deal-breaker. Any movie-goer who will accept twaddle like this, will accept just about anything from anyone (such as the ridiculous twists and turns of the Oliver Stone trash, Savages, that opened this past weekend but that I don't have the time or energy to review just now). I suspect, in fact, that the rest of that beating/car alarm scene did exist at some point in time but was maybe too ridiculous to include in the film, so they simply cut it and jumped to the next scene. (The original Swedish version of the movie came in at 124 minutes; the American version is only 119.)

As for the rest of the movie, it's a standard no-honor-among-thieves brew -- full of drugs, dirty money, a little hot sex, and a lot of betrayals. While the action sequences are well-done, so what? When aren't they, these days? You may already be familiar with the work of director Espinosa (of Swedish/Chilean descent) via Safe House, another barely believable thriller with "good action sequences," that hit theaters earlier this year and is now on DVD. Easy Money, made the year before, was undoubtedly the calling-card movie that got Espinosa Safe House, but it is not -- despite the Martin Scorsese presents atop the credits, nor distribution from The Weinstein Company -- anything special.

Whatever distinction's on hand comes from its three male leads, led by U.S./Swedish dual citizen/actor Kinnaman, who apparently speaks both Swedish and English super well and gives a good performance in whichever country he's working (the recent cable TV version of The Killing, Safe House, Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, and even The Darkest Hour). Here, he's a slick-backed blond young man who is desperately trying to rise above his Swedish station in life and so tries crime. Silly boy. Mr. Varela, on the other hand, plays a rough-and-tumble type whose escape from prison begins the movie. He's the character we end up rooting for perhaps the most, which makes the movie's end a tad more acceptable.

The third wheel -- another criminal exhibiting some slight decency and intelligence -- is a fellow named Mrado (played by Dragomir Mrsic, above) whose character comes saddled with a precious little girl. I must say that the females in the movie (Swedish actress Lisa Henne, below, right, plays Kinnaman's love interest, while Annika Ryberg Whittembury plays Varela's upset sister) are little more than clichés used to push the narrative forward or provide an occasional sex and/or family scene. (Oh, and would someone please tell me why the top Serbian criminal kingpin does what he does near the movie's conclusion. This nonsensical move renders super-intelligent just about anything in Savages.)

The movie's title is of course ironic. Yet one does wonder when characters will ever learn and moviemakers will finally tire of teaching us that, Hey, kids: There is no easy money, and if you lie down with dogs, expect to get up with fleas. If these life lessons strike you as new and original, by all means take a chance on Easy Money, which opens this Wednesday, July 11, at Film Forum in New York City. I can't find on the film's website any additional playdates, but perhaps, when The Weinstein Company gets around to announcing same, it will post them here.

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