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Black Out | Review

Black and Mild: Toonen’s High Octane Adaptation a Bit Derivative

Aren Toonen Black Out PosterIf you could imagine The Hangover remade as a drug fueled action thriller with stylizations that mimic rather than pay homage to early Guy Ritchie flicks, then you’d have something like Aren Toonen’s sophomore film, Black Out on your hands. While it’s slickly paced, this Dutch adaptation of a Swedish novel by Gerben Hellinga may satisfy pulp hounds that prize quick cuts and torrential tangents of backstory and flashback to insistently command their wandering attention, but there’s not much by way of innovation. Sexy babes with tough attitudes and nonsensical outfits stretch the limits of its tenuous believability, but its hyperkinetic design reveals the film to be a simple sugar, a quick burn whose buzz wears off well before the end credits.

Waking up next to a bloodied corpse in his bed, Jos Vreeswijk (Raymond Thiry) can’t remember what happened the night before, but he better figure it out fast because he’s one day away from marrying his new found love interest, Caroline (Kim van Kooten). As he tries to figure out who the dead body is in his trunk, we learn that Jos was an infamous drug dealer about a decade prior, and he used to work for a vicious kingpin, who now uses two sex kitten sisters to do his evil bidding (whose subplot of trying to collect money from a pair of bumbling thieves ends up intersecting with Jos’ predicament). And then, Jos also used to be married to his colleague, Coca Inez (Renee Fokker), who was such a connoisseur of their product she could rub powder between her fingers and determine its potency. So, it seems somehow, Jos was responsible for losing 20 kilos of cocaine the night prior after receiving a tipoff from Coca, but he hasn’t been involved in the business for a decade, cleaning up his act to lead a straight life. As he tries to figure out what could have possibly wrangled him back into the underworld only a night prior, he discovers the dead man to be the lover of a nefarious Russian ballet dancer turned drug dealer. Oh, and his soon-to-be father-in-law is also involved since he represents said aged kingpin.

With each quickstep flashback, Black Out attempts to maneuver through a multi-faceted labyrinth of characters and twists, but instead of seeming slick, we get a mush of details that seem overly complicated and distracting. Of course, it’s explained why Jos can’t quite remember what’s been going on, but its third act surprises aren’t all that intriguing. Toonen’s wife, actress Birgit Schuurman, and her sister Katja Schuurman star as overt eye candy, and happen to be two of the more entertaining characters in a gaggle of archetypes, including a gay Russian gangster whose penchant for melodramatic revenge a la “Flight of the Valkyries” feels about as silly as the transsexual bathroom sequence at the end of Freebie and the Bean (1974).

Dutch director Alex Van Warmerdam turns up as an overtly racist detective that’s been trying to nab Jos’ old boss for the past twenty years, a supporting role that could have popped a bit more had the rest of the film felt a bit more energetic. And because of it’s central “amnesia” gimmick, we never even get a clear sense of Jos as an actual character beyond being some dude that wants to make an honest living, sucked back into his past life as unexpectedly as an impromptu acid flashback. While Toonen is certainly a competent filmmaker, Black Out feels a bit too derivative to feel wholly successful.

★½ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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