Indulge us for a moment. Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Pusher” trilogy was never meant to be a triptych, let alone a multi-language spawning remake series (there has already been a U.K. produced, Hindi language version
So “Pusher 2 & 3” were purely made for money to drag his family out of insolvency. The heartening thing was, try as he might to construct something purposefully commercial, parts two and three of his “Pusher” films are gripping, engaging and on par with most of his strong body of work. Clearly the “Pusher” series continues to resonate, which brings us to the unfortunate U.K. version of “Pusher,” which offers up nothing new, authentic or genuine from the gangster/drug-dealing genre and is as predictable as they come. Sure, it’s an English-language redo of an existing foreign film, but there has to be a more creative way to go about this other than (more or less) following the exact same story.
How many raves and techno-music dance sequences can you cram into one movie? How many jarring, clipped and frenetically jump-cut scenes can you get away with in order to convey the skittery, anxious and nervous world of coke, meth and other paranoiac drugs and the skeezy lowlifes who inhabit it? Directed by Spaniard Luis Prieto (“Meno male che ci sei,” the award-winning short “Bamboleho”), he seems more than willing and able to answer the question and take on the challenge.
Like a bad riff on “Spun” and amped-up Guy Ritchie tough-guy films from the ‘90s, from minute one “Pusher” seems more interested in conveying how cool, crazy and outrageous this world is, rather than putting together a compelling story or three-dimensional characters. Sometimes directed as if it’s trying make music videos for ‘90s electronic bands no one listens to anymore (Orbital, who composed the score, comes to mind), one might ask where Prieto was when Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” video was coming out, as he would have been the perfect choice to helm it.
Featuring unremarkable and predictably stupid and cocky characters who make stupid and cocky decisions — Richard Coyle as Frank, Bronson Webb as the weasley Tony — one need not have seen the original “Pusher” trilogy to know exactly how everything will play out. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an arrogant, low-level drug dealer gets in over his head alongside his stupid clod of a friend, is part of a botched dope deal, and then, with the clock ticking, has a few days to pay off his boss or else deal with some rather unforgiving consequences.
Frank’s a street-level drug dealer in London. His life is unremarkable, but glamorous for those who aspire to doing coke bumps and scoring VIP access to swanky but cheesy dance clubs. But, Frank’s got it all under control, with a hot stripper girlfriend with a heart of gold named Flo (Agyness Deyn), enough drugs and dough to keep him comfortable and cars to take him where he needs. But Frank’s life quickly gets turned upside down over the course of one week after he borrows money from his supplier — the murderous and intolerant Milo played by Zlatko Buric reprising his role from the original films (it should be said that Buric is one of the few delights as the friendly but sociopathic underworld mobster) — on what’s supposed to be a sure thing.
But soon, Frank is up shit creek and has to figure out a way to pay back Milo before he finds his arms and legs irreparably destroyed. And so follows the standard, tierd plot points precipitating stupid decisions, followed by a further downward journey and so on and so on. While Coyle seems like a worthwhile actor to keep an eye on, he doesn’t have much to chew on here other than manic desperation, fear and rage at the corner his poor choices have painted him into. He’s not bad in that role per se, but the emotions are so amped up at a sweaty eleven that the loudness of the story tends to overshadow anything resembling compelling acting.
“Pusher” does eventually settle for a brief moment, drops the razzle dazzle and attempts to humanize the dire situation and consequences Frank faces. But before its fleeting attempt at evincing a soul can stick, it’s again up and running with its shallow, high-octane tricks with thumping music, twitchy editing and more desperate psychosis to convey just how frantic everyone and everything is. Uninventive and unimaginative, there’s probably some value for audiences keen on this particular genre, but for anyone else, you’ve seen this all much more poignantly executed, particularly in a Danish film called “Pusher.” [D+]