Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Tribeca 2012: Jackpot

The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18th to April 29th. Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White are there and will be seeing a shitload of movies.

Jackpot plays like a Norwegian Frankenstein’s monster made from popular turn of the century crime films. The framing device of Usual Suspects is awkwardly stitched over a Coen Brothers criminal farce and then the whole thing is forcibly pumped full of Guy Ritchie’s colorful working class characters and violent zaniness.  This unholy creation of writer/director Magnus Martens occasionally functions as intended, but mostly it outstays its welcome as it clumsily lurches toward a convoluted conclusion.

Martens’ cobbled-together caper centers on Oskar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum), an upstanding citizen who manages a novelty Christmas tree factory staffed entirely by ex-cons. After he comes to in the middle of a porn store bloodbath surrounded by police, he is taken into custody and interrogated by eccentric detective Solor (Henrik Mestad). Svendson then relates, through flashbacks, the story of how he and some of his employees won a great sum of money in a soccer pool and then turned on each other.

Hellum and Mestad both have a good read on their characters. Oskar has enough of an edge to hold his own with his felonious employees, but he’s never quite comfortable. Solor feels like a more subtle version of Willem Dafoe’s character from Boondock Saints. He shifts seamlessly from concerned confidante to relentless investigator. And Oskar’s band of hoodlum factory workers provides the perfect mixture of merry outlaw fun and genuine menace.

So where does it all go wrong? Well, Jackpot always feels like a pale imitation of its inspirations, never nailing down an identity of its own. And the story rarely makes sense, even if you approach it as the testimony of an unreliable narrator. I could forgive all of that, but Jackpot’s greatest offense is simply that it’s not very funny. Martens constantly strives for a grisly comedy of errors, sacrificing logic and a coherent narrative in the quest for laughs. When the jokes don’t land, which is most of the time, there’s not much left to latch on to. At the very least, Jackpot does feature a few winning gags that hint at the movie it could have been.

I wonder how much better Jackpot’s comedy would play with a native speaker who doesn’t spend half the movie reading dialogue off the bottom of the screen. The imagination and comic sensibility on display in some scenes lead me to believe that there are nuances to the exchanges and comedic timing that I was simply doomed to miss. That would certainly make Jackpot more enjoyable, but I doubt it could make up for the highly derivative, slapdash plotting.

VERDICT:  Skip it.

Where have I seen someone go into a wood chipper before?

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