Tuesday 26 February 2019

Frozen stiff: "Cold Pursuit"

2014's In Order of Disappearance was a here-today-gone-tomorrow black comedy from the Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland that felt like a belated Scandie effort to repatriate the Coen brothers' essentially Scandinavian Fargo: it was the one with Stellan Skarsgård as the upstanding snowplough driver driven to go on a kill-crazy vengeance rampage - plough heavily featured - after drug smugglers do for his offspring. That film has now been remade as Cold Pursuit in the US (the snowy outskirts of Denver, to be precise), where it has fallen subject to a deadening conflict of interests. The new film's moneymen clearly saw in the material the potential for another thick-eared Liam Neeson beat-'em-up, and have cast accordingly, yet it leaves Moland, who's travelled with the tale in his carry-on luggage, clinging in vain to those odd and offbeam gags that were the basis of the first movie. The whole project has been pointed in a new direction, somewhere between ultra-droll and just plain mirthless, and wound up stranded. The original wasn't anything much, but it knew what it was, and was a modest enough proposition for even its more bathetic jokes to land. The remake is inevitably bigger (full of down-at-heel perps living in swish Philippe Starck-like houses) but somehow emptier still, if not a total write-off then far too tonally clumsy and narratively misbegotten to be anything like a good time.

Above all else, it's just plain cold: an exercise in snickering heartlessness undertaken by individuals with no more than money on their mind. There are palpable traces of grief apparent in the acting as Neeson's Nels Coxman and wife Grace (Laura Dern) learn their boy was pumped full of heroin and left at the roadside, but once we enter the mortuary, Moland feels compelled to repeat a piffling joke (it takes forever for the corpse to be lifted up for identification via a pneumatic footpump) which wasn't especially hilarious first time around, and gets only crueller through repetition. Thereafter, the film is Neeson going from ne'er-do-well to ne'er-do-well up the drug dealers' supply chain, doing what Neeson now does in these types of movies - the basicness of it all compounded by Moland's decision to cast a dozen of the most blandly nondescript Caucasians to play our hero's sneering targets. (These guys are barely there long before the ploughman wipes them out.) One cheers up in the more characterful and lived-in presence of William Forsythe as Neeson's brother, but he's here to turn over as much exposition as he can before himself being offed, and Dern is scandalously wasted (three, four minutes of screen time, tops?) on the assumption nobody needs to hear from the wife in this kind of man's-gotta-do movie. 

This is not a film that cares much for women or minorities: we get something of a twofer in Forsythe's dragon-lady Asian bride, Arnold Pinnock's gunman The Eskimo is a devolution of Bokeem Woodbine's Mike Milligan from Fargo S2 (and further proof that American TV now routinely has the jump on American movies), while the native American tribe who wander on at the halfway mark are, right to the last, barely more than shambling punchline fodder. In retrospect, part of the shock with Neeson's recent promotional overshare can be attributed to the fact the actor was ready to let slip a revelation like that - and in doing so jeopardise future bookings - while hyping a project as fundamentally flimsy as this. (A less generous reading: that it was a calculated dogwhistle designed to catch the ear of exactly those troglodytes who might have enjoyed Cold Pursuit, if Moland had put in anything for anybody to enjoy here.) In fact, the film treats the theme of revenge with no greater seriousness than it does the themes of race-relations or human mortality, and as it would a passing fart; it goes horribly slack in the middle as the screen clutters up with disposable goons for Neeson to plough through, then limps in a minute short of two wasted hours. Interest will have long since drained out, although there's some quite nice, picturesque second-unit footage of actual ploughmen clearing heaped roads, the only time anyone involved with Cold Pursuit appears wholly certain of the job they've been sent out here to do.

Cold Pursuit is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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