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Master Plan, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Return of a much-loved caper crew, fun even if they're new to you."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: More of this, please. I've got no idea whether this reboot of Sweden's "Jönssonligan" franchise was popular enough to spawn sequels, but I want it to be. It's a neat, tight little caper movie that introduces its characters quickly, has them play out a set of linked heists with style and panache, and never forgets, even if it was a loved one's murder that kicks things off, that these adventures are supposed to be fun.

As it starts, Charles Ingvar Jonsson (Simon J. Berger) and his uncle Ralf (NIklas Falk) are in the high-end car-theft business, with Charles's meticulous planning meaning that they get away clean even when filling special orders. When Ralf spots an irresistible target of opportunity, he and Charles wind up with more than just a fancy car - there's a laptop in the back seat with a whole lot of information that ruthless banker Anna-Lena Wallentin (Andrea Edwards) doesn't want getting out. When it turns as bad as expected, Charles decides to turn the tables, but he'll need to recruit a team - con artist Ragnar Vanheden (Alexander Karim), demolitions expert Harry Berglund (Torkel Petersson), and safecracker Denise "Rocky" Ostlund (Susanne Thorson) for the heist(s) he plans.

That starts with breaking Rocky out of police custody before she can do it herself, with the jobs progressively building in scale, but all being impressively designed: There's just enough moving parts that things could be moving smoothly over here but stretching to a breaking point over there, with all four members of the "Jonsson Gang" always having a useful part to play, with no unreasonably stupidity required. Director Alain Darborg and his co-writer Piotr Marciniak both build and execute these sequences well, with a light touch and plenty of funny moments despite giving them real stakes. The in-between scenes, with planning and characters just hanging out, are snappy too, never feeling like just killing time.

I like the cast as well. Simon J. Berger marries an Alan Rickman voice to a methodical character but does so with surprising charm and warmth; this sort of mastermind often comes across as either cold or smirkingly self-satisfied, but Berger's Charles is a likable leading man even if he can seem a little remote. Alexander Karim makes the con artist of the group a cut-up, funny both for when he's using his mouth to get in and out of trouble or just looking a bit odd in a given situation. Torkel Petersson makes a depressed demolitions expert funny without (I think) being offensive, and Susanne Thorson has an impish but professional charm as the safecracker. The villains are fun and threatening, but thankfully secondary - Susanne Thorson and Jens Hulten get the job done, and are not entirely forgettable, but they're also not going to overshadow the heroes or be considered necessities for sequels.

The "Jönssonligan" films have been fixtures of Swedish multiplexes since 1981, with five films in the 1980s and a prequel series about the gang as kids around the turn of the century. Looking at IMDB, it appears Rocky was a man in the earlier iterations of the series and Ragnar was white - thankfully, the film lets him be a master of disguise without resorting to ethnic caricatures despite there being relatively few people with skin that dark in Sweden - so it's a bit of an updated and diversified cast, but one that works well together. It's also, apparently, a bit more serious-minded that the previous series, which were outright comedies, but being crime-first and comedy a very close second works well for it.

In some ways, I have less to say about this one than other movies I liked less at the festival. It's a modestly-sized caper that amuses and doesn't stumble, rare enough to be worth praising even though that's kind of what these movies are expected to do. Here's hoping the film did well enough for there to be more (though I'd also accept English-friendlly releases of the original series).

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originally posted: 08/24/15 13:45:14
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