Guy Ritchie, the stylish Brit behind the hyperkinetic one-two punch that was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, hasn’t made a great crime comedy since 2008’s RocknRolla (blame Warner Bros., which keeps throwing Ritchie big fish like Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). It might be a while until the auteur bounces back with another instant classic but in the meantime, at least we have Black Out, a mostly clever and entertaining Dutch flick that mimics Ritchie’s furious editing technique, convoluted storytelling and zany characters so meticulously that it almost managed to convince me it was doing something original.
That’s a diss, sure, but originality has never been a requirement in cinema; on the contrary, it’s so rare that we wildly applaud whenever we do see it. And to be fair, Ritchie stood on the shoulders of other filmmakers (particularly Quentin Tarantino) to make his debut. So don’t write off Black Out. If you can get past the fact that it isn’t going to stun you with its audacity or beguile you with innovation, the film is an enjoyable, often funny crime thriller packed with enough madcap moments to fill out its tight 92-minute runtime.
Ritchie aside, Black Out often feels like a nastier version of The Hangover spiced with flashes of always-trusty ultraviolence. The film opens as Jos (Raymond Thiry), a retired criminal, wakes up on the day before his wedding next to a horrifically mangled corpse, with no memory of the previous night. Forced to turn to his former partners in crime, including the mutton-headed Bobbie (Bas Keijzer) and cocaine queen Inez (Renee Fokker), Jos soon discovers that he’s considered responsible for 20 kilos of coke that has somehow vanished. Caught between two kingpins, Jos finds himself on a ticking clock to get the coke and get out before his wedding day arrives.
It’s a familiar premise, but it worked well for The Hangover and it still works well here. Though director Arne Toonen doesn’t find a way to neatly fill in the missing links in Jos’s memory, the character’s frantic misadventures are fun to watch. Of course, you’ll never believe a second of it, but that’s not what Black Out is about. No, Black Out‘s the kind of movie where two femme fatales can sit in a car and lament the lack of strong female leads in action thrillers, then get out of said car and beat the daylights out of some poor guy who owes their boss money. I’m fine with that, and you will be too.
The screenplay, mainly by Toonen and Melle Runderkamp, wears its influences on its sleeve, dropping homages like a Martin Scorsese script does f-bombs, but when the jokes flow as smoothly as they do in Black Out, it’s hard to complain. Toonen’s breakneck pace helps, consistently jumping between different sets of characters but weaving their stories together quickly enough that no one thread feels extraneous.
Playing the straight-man hero, Thirly has a gruff, understated charisma that’s serviceable, if not particularly endearing. He’s also surprisingly believable as the star of a pulpy crime thriller like this, which is great news for Black Out seeing as the film relies heavily on his ability to simultaneously play confusion, desperation and fury. His interactions with the zany supporting characters end up creating a lot of the film’s funniest moments.
The diverse cast of characters that Black Out gets to play with is pretty fantastic. Hapless would-be extortionists and dog grooming salon employees Wally (Willie Wartaal) and Björn (Kempi) showcase great chemistry and atrocious decision-making skills. Keijzer’s sidekick character is hilarious, particularly when he’s sloppy-drunk or coked out of his mind (which is most of the time). Robert de Hoog is comic dynamite as a vicious drug trafficker who finds creative and uproarious ways to punish his bumbling henchmen, while Birgit and Katja Schuurman make for an extremely effective pair of Tarantino-esque femme fatales. And Simon Armstrong’s antagonist, Vlad (“The Gay Basher”), is Jacobim Mugatu-shades of over-the-top crazy, pirouetting his way through bare-knuckle brawls. That’s not even a third of the nutty characters Toonen and Runderkamp manage to throw on the table.
For the majority of its length, Black Out is consistently raucous entertainment, boasting deliciously nasty confrontations between various underworld figures and enough colorful action sequences to satisfy. It never takes itself too seriously, which is always a great thing to see in crime thrillers, and earns some big laughs with plainly ridiculous interactions between its characters. The whole affair all collapses in a pretty undignified heap in the third act, with more attention going to unraveling plot details than to creating an enjoyably ballsy finale, but Black Out somehow manages to stay light and fun throughout.
In a cinematic landscape populated by grim, gritty thrillers, I was gratified to find a thriller as lurid, loopy and gleefully chaotic as Black Out. It’s a copy, to be sure, but one done with enough smarts and enthusiasm to more than justify its existence.
Releases on Premium VOD 2/21 on XBOX, PlayStation, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Google Play, and YouTube.
Black Out is just energetic and smartly written enough to make up for its obvious lack of originality.