Energetic crime-drama is done in by cliches.
Pusher is a reasonably entertaining movie about a London drug dealer who has the worst business luck since the Merchant of Venice. In just a matter of days, he goes from gliding around nightclubs like David Bowie in the classic I Am a Deejay video to running for his life.
Such a premise might have fueled a movie worth watching, but Pusher embraces two cliches without examining them or making the case for them, and, one suspects, without anyone behind the movie really believing them. The first is that criminals are cool and colorful. The second is that crime doesn’t pay.
And so we get snappy patter that sounds liked vulgarized, warmed-over Tarantino, and dance clubs with flashing lights, back rooms and people making deals. We see neither glamour nor a vivid depiction of squalor aspiring to glamour. Rather such scenes fall into a dead zone of “Well, we tried to give you the flavor of this world, and there it is, sort of.”
Yet even as the movie strains to convince us these people are fascinating, it’s pushing the other cliche, the crime-doesn’t-pay one, suffusing the movie with such a crushing sense of inevitability that it becomes a moral exercise, not a drama. Worse, the moral exercise is half-hearted. The movie is based on a 1996 film, by the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (who made Drive), but that didn’t preclude re-thinking the material for 2012.
Richard Coyle plays the pusher of the title, and he’s a major asset, in that you really don’t want to see villains attach electrodes to his nipples, and you don’t want to hear him scream. The film’s other asset is the Croatian actor Zlatko Buric, perhaps best known in these parts as the billionaire in the movie 2012. Buric, who is large and exuberant, has an arresting way of being charismatic and funny, even warm — like someone you’d want to be around — and yet dangerous, like there is nothing he wouldn’t do. He is able to suggest all this by saying, “You’re my friend, I like you.”
Early in the movie, the pusher gets into debt to his “friend,” and nothing much matters but that. The only other interesting thing about Pusher it’s that the sums are fairly small, even after you factor in that the characters are dealing in pounds, not dollars. The guy is small time, but in no less trouble than if he owed millions.
Cast: Richard Coyle, Agyness Deyne, Zlatko Buric, Mem Ferda, Bronson Webb.
Director: Luis Prieto.
Screenwriter: Matthew Read. Based on a film by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Producers: Rupert Preston, Christopher Simon, Felix Vossen.
A Radius/TWC release. Running time: 89 minutes. Pervasive drug content and language, some strong sexuality, nudity and violence. Opens Friday Oct. 26 in Miami-Dade only: Palace.