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Easy Money: Hard to Kill | Review

Man of Straw: Kinnaman Beginagain in Energetic Yet Paltry Sequel

Daniel Espinosa Easy Money: Hard to Kill PosterWhile Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s 2010 film Easy Money kicked off his lucrative international status, it also opened up a lot of doors for star Joel Kinnaman, who has now starred in the complete trilogy inspired by the success of the first film. Director Babak Najafi takes up director credit for the first sequel, Easy Money: Hard to Kill, a 2012 title that will hit US theaters not long before the trilogy cap follows suit. Many of the cast members from the first film pop up here for a hyperkinetic reunion, slickly edited together in blasts of juxtaposition where three parallel subplots inevitably converge. Featuring a strong set-up that is neither marred by endless posturing or redundant rehash, we’re finally dumped into a soggy middle-of-the-road finale after a trip that is neither as heartily written nor excitingly performed as the first entry. In essence, whether or not the third film was definite at the time this chapter was made, it suffers from mid-film malaise.

Currently serving a prison sentence for crimes committed in the previous film, JW (Joel Kinnaman) not only is about to get leave privileges for good behavior, but he’s also made friends with Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), the man he had double-crossed. Having developed trading software while inside prison, JW uses his leave to meet up with outside business partner and old college friend, Nippe (Joel Spira), only to discover that he’s been screwed over, his ideas and hard work stolen by Nippe. Enraged, JW refuses to go back to prison and instead hatches a plot to break Mrado out as they attempt to go after bag of money that belongs to drug lord Radovan (Dejan Cukic). Meanwhile, this enterprise intersects with the plight of Jorge (Matias Varela), who has returned to Sweden and challenges the Serbian mafia, helping out a prostitute, and whose actions spur the mafia to hire one of Jorge’s childhood friends, Mahmoud (Fares Fares) to kill him, which Mahmoud must do in a bid to save his own skin.

Even though the Easy Money films may not have the same masterful capacity as something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, they are at least a comparably entertaining dash of the scabrous milieu of the Scandinavian underworld. Mere gasps of the class issues outlined in Espinosa’s first chapter get sledgehammered home here, JW’s backstabbing partner gleefully announcing that class is something one is born with, something that can be immediately ascertained with a glance at one’s eyes. Likewise, Mrado’s monologue on the hellish certainty of routine in a “country built on habits” feels as equally out of place, moments of on-point wisdom hastily pasted between multiple coils of nastiness, spliced into three points of view at each round, outlining the nightmarish scenario of each character’s travails.

Strangely enough, the film hits US theaters the same weekend Jose Padilha’s Robocop remake drops, also starring Kinnaman. While Kinnaman isn’t granted the same amount of time or material to shine as brightly as he did in the earlier film, he certainly looks down and out here, a wasted and increasingly desperate shell of the naive student he used to be, just now beginning to realize that once mired in a life of crime, one may actually never escape it. Likewise, Matias Varela and Dragomir Mrsic seem reduced to mere plot contrivances this time around, with only Fares Fares as the doomed Mahmoud seeming to get a bit of mileage as far as developing character goes. While each Easy Money film sports a different director, perhaps Hard to Kill will feel more substantial after the hindsight of the final chapter. Though avoiding the pitfalls of many safe-bet sequels, it stands as a rather inconsequential bridge between two films.

★★ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com'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), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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