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Review: ‘Killerman’ is a crime thriller that starts with cliches and goes bloody bonkers

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 29, 2019

Liam Hemsworth in “Killerman.” (Blue Fox Entertainment)
Liam Hemsworth in “Killerman.” (Blue Fox Entertainment)
By Hau Chu Washington Post

“Killerman” takes its influences – countless pulpy crime thrillers – and synthesizes them into an increasing rare thing: a movie that doesn’t aspire to any greater heights than where it lands: squarely in the middle of the August dumping ground.

And, for most of its nearly 2-hour running time, that’s OK. It has all the of plot contrivances and stock characters that you would expect from a gritty New York City-set crime drama. To give you an idea of the level of subtlety on which “Killerman” operates, Liam Hemsworth stars as a jeweler named – wait for it – Moe Diamond.

Moe is involved in a small-time money-laundering operation along with his buddy Skunk (Emory Cohen) and Skunk’s uncle (Zlatko Buric, whose performance as a campy crime boss suggests that he thinks this movie is more fun than it is).

Moe and Skunk step up their responsibility by taking on a drug deal on their own – one that goes awry when they are ambushed by crooked cops. The ensuing car chase ends with the duo escaping, but not before crashing their car, leaving Moe with amnesia.

Writer-director Malik Bader doesn’t try anything new with the well-worn memory loss plot device, as Moe hazily retraces his steps to regain his trust in friends, discovering secret personal affairs – among other things – along the way. That’s just about what you would expect from a movie like this

But then there’s the final act. A small sequence of revelations knocks the film off its otherwise pedestrian footing, abruptly bumping it up to a level of lunacy that will more likely make you laugh than gasp. The reveal is so jarringly on the nose that it makes the movie you were just watching almost completely unravel.

Hemsworth, for his part, does a serviceable job with the material at hand – serviceable enough to chip away at his reputation as the “other” Hemsworth. (Most of his dialogue consists of variations on needing to remember and exasperated screams.)

His decision to accept the role of Moe might remind you of other hunks who have taken on grimy roles in small-budget films: Ryan Gosling, for instance, in “Drive” or Robert Pattinson in the criminally overlooked “Good Time.” “Killerman,” however, never ascends to the caliber of those star turns.

Thinking about those films – and their striking similarities with “Killerman” – might make you wonder where “Killerman” went wrong. Like “Good Time,” “Killerman” was shot on film, and they share an aesthetic of a punchy, retro-synth score. It’s pretty obvious that Bader is a fan of “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn’s body of work, too.

Aside from all the homage, “Killerman” takes an adequate stab at telling a dark tale about a couple of schmos who get in a little over their heads but who are bound by feelings of real friendship – or at least as real as can be rebuilt in the wake of amnesia.

Its seedy underbelly works well enough to keep you interested through the crescendoing acts of brutal violence that we’ve come to expect from a thriller. But it’s that bloody, bonkers final act. Put it this way: For better and (mostly) for worse, “Killerman’s” title proves apt in more ways than one.

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