If the second Easy Money / Snabba Cash film Hard to Kill was an uninspiring gangster thriller elevated by some interesting subtext and character work, this third entry, Life Deluxe is the same thing minus all of the subtext and most of the character. Although all three were adapted from the novels by Jens Lapidus, each entry in the film series has been tackled by a new director (Daniel Espinosa, Babak Najafi, and now Jens Jonsson), adding to the already substantial odds that a franchise is an exercise in diminishing returns. Disappointingly, Jonsson only appears interested in making an efficient thriller, which is problematic considering he brings little to no directorial innovation to the genre or series, and his script is saddled with tropes of its own (possibly Lapidus' fault, but also Jonsson's, as co-screenwriter).
Picking up several months after Hard to Kill left off, the story is like a checklist of cliches. Kingpin Radovan (Dejan Cukic), mostly absent in the previous chapter, is suddenly struck with a sense of his own mortality, and begins considering who he should tap to take over the business. Should it be his long-time, trusted second-in-command Stefanovic (Cedomir Djordjevic), or perhaps his new friend Martin (Martin Wallstrom), a young man from a local boxing arena who happens to save Radovan's life and is subsequently assigned to watch his daughter Natalie (Malin Buska)? What Radovan doesn't know (but anyone who has ever seen a crime movie will guess) is that Martin is an undercover cop tasked to put Radovan behind bars. Meanwhile, Jorge (Matias Varela) is out of jail and reunited with Nadja (Madeleine Martin), the former working girl who unlocks Jorge's buried innocence. Jorge could probably be happy with her, but he of course stakes that happiness on one last job that would set them up with one of those fresh starts criminals are always after.
What shreds of character remain in Life Deluxe come from Jorge and Nadja's relationship. Varela is a good actor, and even though the drug-runner with the heart of gold is kind of a tough pill to swallow, he sells his character's emotional anguish. He and Martin share some nice sexual chemistry, and Martin herself projects a strong vibe of earnestness and innocence that further greases the rails as far as believing Jorge would give up the life. None of this adds up to much, especially in light of the film's unbelievable trajectory, but these scraps of compelling drama are some of the only material for the viewer to grab onto. Note also that for American fans, Joel Kinnaman's character Johan "JW" Westlund is hardly in the movie at all, having traveled to America in search of what happened to his long-lost sister. Aside from some montage-y lip-service at the end and some ridiculous developments at the end, "JW" seems to have had his arc clipped significantly (probably due to Kinnaman's other commitments).
Jonsson stages Jorge's heist sequence with a bit of style, a long tracking shot through a brightly-lit warehouse that emphasizes the gang's speed and technique. It's a thrilling moment, but it's one of the only exciting bits, with the story devolving into bland and forgettable gunfights, "do-they-know?" suspense sequences with Radovan, and other all-too-familiar developments. The script is a particularly big offender in this category, with nary a single reveal offering any fresh ideas. Would you believe it: Martin falls for Natalie, complicating his assignment as an undercover cop! Would you believe it: the mysterious gangsters who insisted on an inside man for the heist and didn't quite pass Jorge's risk-sense were plotting for a double-cross. Would you believe it: Nadja gets pregnant, and then kidnapped, forcing Jorge to act. With each passing scene, it becomes clearer and clearer that Life Deluxe is anything but.
As a last-ditch attempt to rouse the viewer out of the funk they've likely slipped into, Jonsson and co-screenwriter Maria Karlsson (whose work was much more interesting on the last film) start throwing major reveals at the viewer that cast a new light on everything that's already happened, as well as a number of stunningly sudden turns of fate. For a film franchise that started out with a character aspiring to an idea of class, there's an irony in the way Easy Money ultimately succumbs to some of the silliest B-movie tactics I've seen since the Saw series ended. As one might have guessed, an American remake of Easy Money is in the cards. Kind of funny, considering the original series appears to conclude by cashing in on a boatload of American crime movie tropes.
Easy Money: Life Deluxe has slightly more interesting cover art than Easy Money: Hard to Kill, sticking with the white backdrop but including more guns and people. The art even subtly reflects one of aspect of the film, perhaps unintentionally: Joel Kinnaman is a touch faded compared to Matias Varela and Malin Buska. The disc comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
This 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation is even sharper and on-point than the previous chapter. Jonsson often goes for a brighter, more stylish appearance than the previous chapter, which leaned more realistic than cinematic, providing more opportunity for razor-sharp fine detail and dimensional pop to the image. There are still plenty of moody night scenes that betray just the faintest hint of banding -- which may or may not just be part of the lens flare -- and these have a more subdued and unremarkable appearance. However, the major heist scene is eye-popping, and the overall transfer is a step up from its predecessor.
In addition to a more stylish look, Life Deluxe is also a more thrilling experience sound-wise, with more pulsating nightclubs, more dingy hovels, more gunfire, more car chases, and more explosions than the previous chapter, all of which is rendered by the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with a startling and engaging precision. Rolling basslines from the clubs pulse through the floor, crowds provide strong directionality, and dialogue is crisp as a freshly-printed bill. The original Swedish soundtrack is accompanied by an English dub, also in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and English subtitles are also included (but, frustratingly, only the kind that tackle the Swedish dialogue; there is no overall English track for when the characters speak English as well).
Two extras are included, both in HD: a selection of deleted scenes (12:49), and a lengthy selection of behind-the-scenes vignettes (39:15), made up of B-roll and on-set interviews with the cast and crew. Both are hit-and-miss, with many of the deleted scenes and featurettes being pretty skippable. Watch at your own leisure, and don't hesitate to skip to the next one if any of them get boring. An original theatrical trailer is also included.
If you liked the Easy Money / Snabba Cash series, do yourself a favor and ignore this third chapter in the series. Hard to Kill may have ended on a sort of cliffhanger, but anything the viewer can imagine is probably more exciting than this reheated mishmash of old ideas. Skip it.
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