J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Easy Money: Hard to Kill

When on work release, convicted cocaine smuggler Johan “JW” Westlund seizes the opportunity to get back to “work.” This was not always his world, but he will find there is no going back to the upright, respectable existence he once led in Babak Najafi’s Easy Money: Hard to Kill (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

There were a lot of casualties at the end of the first Easy Money film, but somehow Mrado Slovovic survived, despite being run-over by a car and shot at close range by Westlund. One might expect the wheelchair-bound hitman to hold a grudge, but he and Westlund bond when they become cellmates. It must be all that shared history. Once a promising business student, Westlund lent his analytical skills to an up-and-coming coke syndicate to subsidize his extravagant lifestyle. In retrospect, it was not such a great plan for the future. Trying to go straight, Westlund develops a game-changing stock-trading program, only to find during his first furlough his so-called partner has double-crossed him.

Slightly put out, Westlund chucks in the work-release song-and-dance, arranging to break Slovovic out instead. He might be paraplegic, but Slovovic is still one bad cat. He also knows the daily routine of the Serbian mob’s unassuming money launderer.  While they work on their hasty caper, small time South American trafficker Jorge and lowly Lebanese enforcer Mahmoud are also making their desperate plays for survival. Naturally all three alumni from the first film will come together in some fashion during the third act.

Viewers should be able to readily follow Hard to Kill even if they did not see the franchise opener, but the constant parade of faces that are supposed to be familiar will be more rewarding to those who have. Regardless, HTK is slick, stylish, and strangely multicultural, but hardly in a way that embraces global fellowship. This is not a film that will have you humming “It’s a Small World,” but it might scare you straight, unless you live in Colorado, where these sorts of things are practically legal.

Joel Kinnaman, the star of AMC’s The Killing and the RoboCop reboot so coincidentally opening just before HTK, is suitably flinty as Westlund, but Dragomir Mrsic out hardnoses everyone as Slovovic, while still expressing his acute disappointment in himself as a father. Likewise, Fares Fares makes a compelling sad sack as the luckless Mahmoud.

Since Easy Money: Life Deluxe has already released in Sweden, it is a safe bet anyone who survives the second cut will be back to try their luck a third time. HTK does not break a lot of new ground, but the intriguing relationship that develops between Westlund and Slovovic elevates it above more routine Scandinavian crime dramas. Recommended for those who enjoy gangster films with healthy doses of violence and irony, Easy Money: Hard to Kill opens this Friday (2/14) in New York at the Cinema Village.

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