“Dealer” is an obnoxiously manic, ultraviolent crime drama that uses every audiovisual trick in the book to distract you from the fact that it’s devoid of unique characters and an original story. The aimless and random uses of shaky cam, jump cuts, the arbitrary “badass” voice-over, title cards used as lazy exposition every couple of minutes, and superimposed information like text messages and the protagonist’s financial stats that make you wish for a cinematic version of a pop-up blocker, are all there to make sure you don’t notice one thing: That this is yet another wannabe edgy crime flick about a ruthless career criminal who conveniently adopts a heart of gold when the screenplay needs him to suddenly be relatable, struggling to pick up the pieces after the beyond cliché “one last big score before retirement” goes horribly wrong. It’s a paint-by-numbers screenplay that’s so uninspired and bland, that co-screenwriters Sammy Baaroun and Jean Luc Herbulot (who also directed) forgot to even paint in the numbers.
Dan (Dan Bronchinson) is a Parisian renaissance man-style criminal who has his greasy hands dipped deep into all kinds of bad business, including, but is not limited to, extortion, prostitution, and drug dealing. While he tries to keep his psychotic sidekick, his nymphomaniac webcam sex performer/prostitute (the tone deaf depiction of such an exploitative character drags women’s rights back by 50 years), and his demanding ex-wife in check, Dan dreams of one day hitting that big score and moving to Australia so he can become a pastry chef. Why Australia, and why pastry? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that Baaroun and Herbulot read in some Screenwriting 101 book that their protagonist needed a clear goal to be relatable, and an atlas and a cookbook was in front of them at the time they sat down to write the movie.
The big score comes in the form of a yuppie douchebag Dan sells drugs to, who needs a kilo of cocaine within a couple of hours, and he’ll pay full retail price to get his hands on it. Dan’s reluctant to handle cocaine, since he had some bad experiences with it in the past, but this deal can result in him baking some delicious buttery croissants for the Aussies much sooner than he expected. Of course, the only rational decision at this point is to go to an extremely dangerous Nigerian drug lord and ask him for a kilo of yeyo and promise him full payment by the end of the day.
Conveniently, the drug lord is also obsessed with pastry, since he can’t eat any due to his diabetes, and uses doughy sweets as a metaphor for how easily he will crush Dan if he doesn’t get his money. In the universe of “Dealer,” every ruthless criminal is also an expert in delicious fluffy treats. I know about the stereotype that French people love themselves some pastry, but isn’t this going a bit too far?
If you’ve seen a single “raw” action-thriller about an edgy criminal going after that one last big score that seems simple and easy on the surface, you know exactly where this is going: Dan sells the coke, gets paid, and lives happily ever after in Australia. Of course I’m pulling your leg, the coke goes missing, and the drug lord’s goons go after Dan with every machete they can get their hands on, forcing him to race against time in a futile effort to raise the money before the end of the day.
Dan’s flat and depthless characterization on the page is not helped by Bronchinson’s one-note performance, where he thinks furrowing his brow and adopting a chronically constipated look is enough to communicate how much of a badass his character is supposed to be. Jason Statham circa 2002 would have been proud of that performance. But in 2015, when even Statham himself is embarrassed into gleefully mocking such an overwrought character in films like “Spy,” it is dated. In fact, the whole ordeal, with its manic editing and self-aware use of voice-over, feels like a late ’90s Guy Ritchie ripoff that was made at least a decade ago and is just now being released.
“Dealer” is barely over 70 minutes long, if you don’t count the credits, but thanks to its stunning lack of originality and episodic structure, it easily feels like it’s over three hours. The second act especially drags, since it’s dedicated to Dan raising the money piece by piece. Here’s how it goes: Dan shows up at a location, beats the shit out of some people, robs them, moves onto the next location, go to beginning of the sentence, repeat. The random use of title cards bafflingly telegraphs the content of the scene before we even watch it, and the constant use of voice-over giving us nothing that couldn’t have been relayed with, you know, actual screenwriting, turn out to be annoyances rather than fun distractions.
If you’ve been in a coma since the mid-1990s and “Dealer” is the first film you’ll watch since snapping out of your peaceful slumber, honestly there are much better films to catch up with, but at least you’ll find it to be original and fresh. For anyone who doesn’t belong in that extremely specific market, you’ll get more out of staring at color bars for 75 minutes. [D-]
“Dealer” is now available on digital/VOD.