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by Jay Seaver

"Creates a genuine modern grindhouse feel."
3 stars

"Killerman" opens with a nifty quote about money laundering (that the illegal drug business generates a hundred billion in revenues, and the difficulty of pushing 26 million pounds of cash through a teller's window), and a fun sequence of a money launderer transforming a banker's box full of c-notes into cashier's checks difficult to trace back to a criminal enterprise, before starting to do other things, then goes in another direction again for the finale. It's not a bait-and-switch, exactly, but maybe filmmaker Malik Bader could have spent more time with half of his intriguing set-ups and saved the others for another movie.

The money launderer we follow during that time is the aptly named Moe Diamond (Liam Hemsworth), a jeweler in New York's Bowery who knows the sorts of people who can make large cash transactions look legitimate while also being buddies with Bobby (Emory Cohen), also known as "Skunk", a small-timer who has helped him land a big job: His uncle needs $2 million a day cleaned for ten days, part of a plan to buy a building in Manhattan and go legit, to the point of having a Congressman renting space from him. Perico (Zlatko Buric) sees something off right away, which leaves Moe and Bobby with cash on hand, which Bobby suggests they use in a drug deal that offers a huge profit overnight. Trouble is, it's a trap, with corrupt cops Duffo (Nickola Shreli) and Martinez (Bader) showing up to shake them down. They're prepared enough to escape the scene, but a crash leaves Moe badly concussed - and that's the optimistic diagnosis - unable to remember his own name. Not a great condition to be in when surviving the next day means outwitting and outrunning everyone who feels they have something that does not belong to them.

As a plot device, amnesia has got to be one of the sharpest double-edged swords that a writer can draw. It's real and so cannot be completely dismissed, but uncommon enough that it almost cannot help but feel too convenient whenever it shows up in a story; the real-world randomness of brain injuries isn't quite compatible with how actions in films are assumed to have meaning. The problem here is not so much that Bader gives Moe a recovery that tracks too well with what the story needs - to the extent that anything like that happens, it's well-camouflaged - but that he cuts interesting avenues off too often. He spends the first act teaching the audience about money-laundering but then has Moe cut off from those skills and contacts, and aside from the occasional pained look, there's not much of the movie's center that would seemingly change if he had his memory. That Moe is potentially suggestible and less assertive than usual doesn't come up much until late, nor is there much time spent on just where the skills and ruthlessness he does display are coming from.

Despite how the character's amnesia is not always a big part of the plot, Liam Hemsworth does nice work whenever the script requires Moe to poke at the limits of his memory and find nothing there. It's a neat trick on both his and Bader's parts that amnesiac Moe is not so much a blank as the same guy introduced at the beginning, just with less remembered experience tempering his emotions, especially considering that he was introduced as the sensible, centered one. He's surrounded by familiar crime-movie characters, but done well - Emory Cohen as the twitchy loser criminal, Zlatko Buric as the self-centered old gangster, Nickola Shreli as the sleazy crooked cop, and so on.

Bader's got style to spare, though, shooting on 16mm film and capturing the feel of a 1970s grindhouse movie without ever becoming anachronistic. He shows what's going on with clarity and stages the action the same way, relying on quick, decisive bursts of violence. It's worth noting that this tendency not to mess around means that the second half has the film escalating from an already nasty place to the point where it's more sadistic than thrilling. It's effectively cringe-worthy by the end, but makes it tough to give as much attention to the parts of the ending that are not just violence.

"Killerman" suffers most in comparison to Bader's previous film "Cash Only", which had a stronger sense of place and personality than another New York crime movie which seems to be stretching to cover two or three different ways it could have gone from its basic idea. It's pretty fair no-frills crime, at least, the sort whose rough edges occasionally make it feel like the raw B-movies whose vibe it is seemingly trying to capture.

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originally posted: 09/03/19 11:56:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  30-Aug-2019 (R)



Directed by
  Malik Bader

Written by
  Malik Bader

  Liam Hemsworth
  Malik Bader
  Omar Bader
  Emory Cohen
  John Cenatiempo
  Diane Guerrero

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