J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tribeca ’15: Hyena

If they hadn’t become corrupt cops, Michael Logan and his team probably would have been football hooligans. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t enough time for the husky louts to go less crooked. Karma will be harsh to some in Gerard Johnson’s Hyena (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York, following its U.S. premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

After plundering a large quantity of cocaine in a night club shake down, Logan’s team is in the mood to party. That is often the case, but this time Logan has bigger fish to fry. He has a meeting with his partner in a new Turkish drug trafficking scheme. This is not an undercover operation. It’s an investment. Inconveniently, Logan secretly witnesses the psychotic Albanian Kabashi Brothers murdering his contact. At least Logan manages to secure their first shipment. The Kabashis will be looking for that.

Things will steadily go from bad to worse for Logan. Initially, he tries to forge a temporary working arrangement with the Kabashi Brothers, but nobody believes that will last. He also must contend with an Internal Affairs investigation, while his mates become increasingly erratic and drug-addled. Seriously, how hard could it be to bust these knuckleheads?

Yes, we have seen this all before—and we’ve seen it better. The opening sequence is a stylistic tour-de-force, but from there on Gerard is indecisively torn between old school exploitation movies and affected art cinema. To a large extent, you can determine a film’s pretentiousness by comparing the amount of screen time devoted to the back of the protagonist’s head as they grimly trudge onward versus more conventional (and engaging) frontal and profile shots. In Hyena, the ratio is nearly one-to-one, which means tough sledding.

When we can actually see his face, Peter Ferdinando is pretty good as Logan. Likewise, Ben Wheatley regular Neil Maskell is obviously on comfortable ground as Logan’s sleazebag subordinate, Martin. His Kill List co-star MyAnna Buring also brings some verve to the film as Logan’s exasperated girlfriend, Lisa. Inexplicably, cult favorite Mem Ferda is almost completely wasted in what is effectively a cameo as Turkish crime lord Akif Dikman. Like Buddy Sorrell on the old Dick Van Dyke Show, he spends most of his screen time lying on a couch. Yet, he is still cool.

Speaking of Ferda, Hyena obviously follows in the tradition of Luis Prieto’s Pusher remake, but it cannot match the frenetic energy. Johnson tries to compensate with 1970s era pessimism and nihilism, but that gets old after the first act. However, fans of The The will get an nostalgic charge out of their original soundtrack. Not recommended, Hyena opens this Friday (5/1) in New York at the Cinema Village, after screening as a midnight selection at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. 

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