Following the same path that earned him attention a few years back in Cash Only, Malik Bader roots for men who do stupid things with other people’s money in Killerman, a bloody crime flick starring Liam Hemsworth. This time, though, the protagonist is not a victim of circumstance but an underworld figure who knows the risks going in — a difference that turns out to matter, as this picture lacks the palpable desperation that made its predecessor so compelling. Adding a movie star to the mix will help a bit at the box office (Cash Only was toplined by Nickola Shreli, the unknown actor who wrote it), and the gritty pic’s aesthetic scratches an itch for lovers of ’70s/’80s urban grime. But atmosphere and attitude overwhelm story here, and trotting out old tropes like amnesia doesn’t help.
Hemsworth plays Moe Diamond, a money launderer who works in Manhattan’s jewelry district. A credits-sequence montage suggests the smoothness of his game: Boxes of cash transform into heavy gold ingots, which transform into hefty cashier’s checks, with many stop-offs at crummy offices in between. Diamond and his buddy Skunk (Emory Cohen, almost the Ratso Rizzo to Moe’s savvier Joe Buck) are working up to a lucrative gig: Skunk’s gangster uncle Perico (Zlatko Buric, of the Pusher trilogy), hoping to legitimize his riches by partnering with politicians to buy a skyscraper, is about to let the pair launder two million dollars a day for two weeks. Moe and Skunk will make a million apiece in profit.
But after they take their first satchel of cash, the deal is put on hold. Deciding to put that money to profitable use, Moe and Skunk arrange a quick-turnover drug deal — only to be ambushed by dirty cops, leading to a tight-quarters car chase that sends Moe to the hospital. Moe awakens not knowing anything about his life or loved ones, but when Skunk gets him out of the hospital and up to speed (Hemsworth’s indignant “I’m a drug dealer?!” gets a quick chuckle), he’s prepared to do whatever’s required to get out of this mess.
It’s going to get a whole lot messier. The bad cops — led with charismatic nastiness by Cash Only‘s Shreli — are after the same things Moe and Skunk need, and they have no scruples: They’ll soon be torturing men they squeeze into dog cages and shooting innocent people in the street.
Aside from Ken Seng’s 16mm photography, whose colors suggest a pre-Giuliani NYC, the film’s mood owes much to colorful supporting players, whose look and mannerisms are scuzzy almost, but not quite, to the point of caricature. There’s Shreli, making you wonder why he hasn’t landed another good role since Cash Only; Buric, who pushes hotheaded, unkempt villainy to Balkan extremes; and bit parts for perfect-looking men like Stivi Paskoski. But too often, shouting feels like a stand-in for dramatization; though the plot’s stakes start high and grow from there, the film’s bounce from one violent setting to the next never achieves its predecessor’s sweaty intensity. Without more imagination in the script’s use of the amnesia device, Hemsworth can’t turn Moe into an underworld Jason Bourne — the mystery of identity is inconvenient for him, but uncompelling to us, and adds little to the action.
Production companies: Solution Entertainment Group, Deeper Water
Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Emory Cohen, Zlatco Buric, Diane Guerrero, Nickola Shreli, Richie Ng
Director-screenwriter: Malik Bader
Producers: Craig Chapman, Myles Nestel, John Schwarz
Executive producers: Michael Clofine, James Costas
Director of photography: Ken Seng
Production designer: Freddy Waff
Costume designer: Whitney Anne Adams
Editor: Rick Grayson
Composers: Julian DeMarre, Heiko Maile
Casting directors: Shay Griffin, Bruce H. Newberg
Venue: Fantasia Film Festival
Rated R, 112 minutes