** (out of four)
Please rent the phenomenal 2009 French crime epic “A Prophet.” It contains all the memorable style and character not achieved in “Easy Money,” a Swedish thriller from 2010 that charts the escalating problems of the world’s most naïve new criminal as he falls into organized crime.
Coming from a humble background, JW (Joel Kinnaman of “The Killing”) wants to earn the lifestyle of his rich friends who party as if the recession never happened while JW drives a cab to pay his way through business school. The added funds would make him feel more deserving of Sophie (Lisa Henni), whom a friend tells JW to avoid because he should “Stick to your own kind.” Since no one in movies ever follows that sort of advice, JW falls for her anyway.
One of director/co-writer Daniel Espinosa’s sins is failing to depict JW and Sophie’s romance as a powerful-but-doomed class collision, not just two pretty people with strong chemistry and incompatible priorities.
Kinnaman’s got star quality—he’s also Swedish, it turns out—but Espinosa, adapting Jens Lapidus’ novel, crafts a story of drugs and guns as if the world has never seen one before. Clearly, JW’s never seen one. As his ties to drug dealers and the possible need to play both sides of a gang war increase, his naivete that no one will get hurt will more likely inspire chuckles than sympathy for a guy who gets in over his head. It seems like JW, whose lies about his family history recall Max Fischer in “Rushmore,” is about to complain, “No one said anything about violence; I thought we were all best friends!”
With more convincing conflicts and behavior from characters put in pressure situations, “Easy Money” (which is “presented by Martin Scorsese”) might play like an international descendant of “Goodfellas.” Instead, the movie will need some tweaks before its American remake starring Zac Efron. That’s actually not a joke, and hopefully it won’t become one on screen.
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