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Easy Money: Hard to Kill Blu-ray Review

Easy Money: Hard to Kill (Snabba Cash II) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Easy Money: Hard to Kill (Snabba Cash II)

US Video Premiere: March 11, 2014 (Digital Release: February 14, 2014) / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Babak Najafi / Writers: Jens Lapidus (novels Snabba Cash and Aldrig Fucka Upp); Maria Karlsson (screenplay); Peter Birro, Babak Najafi, Fredrik Wikström Nicastro (collaborating writer)

Cast: Joel Kinnaman (Johan "JW" Westlund), Matias Varela (Jorge Salinas), Dragomir Mrsic (Mrado Slovovic), Fares Fares (Mahmoud), Madeleine Martin (Nadja), Dejan Cukic (Radovan), Joel Spira (Niklas "Nippe" Creutz), Lisa Henni (Sophie), Ricardo Marcelino Araneda Moreno (Victor), Luis Cifuentes (Rolando), Annika Ryberg Whittembury (Paola), Lea Stojanov (Lovisa Slovovic), Prvoslav Gane Dzakovic (Ratko), Rolf Jenner (Axel Bolinder), Peter Carlberg (Misha Bladman), Christopher Wagelin (Andreas), Vivianne Romanos (Jamila)

2.40:1 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Swedish, English)
Subtitles: English; Extra Subtitled
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $34.95
Also available on DVD ($29.95) and Amazon Instant Video

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Actor Joel Kinnaman has been keeping busy on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In his native Sweden, where he began acting in his early twenties, he has appeared in a number of crime thrillers. His ability to do an impeccable American accent, meanwhile, has landed him parts in prominent Hollywood productions, including David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake,
a lead in AMC's "The Killing", and the title role of the underperforming new RoboCop. With upcoming credits like winter 2015's obligatory Liam Neeson action vehicle and Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups, Kinnaman's American career is more than a dream at this point. But that doesn't mean the 34-year-old is giving up on Sweden, where he continues to be a part of the originally direct-to-video and now theatrical Johan Falk series in addition to the Easy Money franchise that apparently made his name.

Released by The Weinstein Company to just a handful of theaters in the summer of 2012, the first Easy Money (altogether unrelated to the Rodney Dangerfield comedy of the same name) did a good amount of business in Sweden in 2010, grossing $7.2 million (around a third of what Avatar made there the same time). It's already been followed by two sequels, the first of which reached American stores yesterday from Cinedigm with the title Easy Money: Hard to Kill, having enjoyed no apparent North American theatrical release.

Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) spends almost no time on the straight and narrow path in "Easy Money: Hard to Kill." Mahmoud (Fares Fares) doesn't have a warm, fuzzy reunion with his father at his sister's wedding, getting called "dirt."

Though it's clear we're entering well into this saga, Hard to Kill doesn't waste time playing catch up. Those like me who haven't seen the first film are probably at a disadvantage, but it's very easy to get swept up in this layered, enthralling story.

Convicted drug runner and police informant Johan Westlund (Kinnaman) is about to be released from prison. He's spent the three years of his sentence developing software for stock market flash trades. He's counting on cashing in on this bright idea with an associate on the outside, so he's surprised to learn that he's a day late for his scheduled meeting with an interested investor, who informs "JW" he's already signed a deal, exclusively with the associate. Getting iced out of the fruit of his three years of labor by his supposed friend, JW can only contact his wheelchair-bound cellmate and former partner in crime, Mrado (Fares Fares). Mrado has a plan for getting some not too easy money, involving past crime world connections.

Despite the marketing, Kinnaman doesn't have an abundance of screentime or activity here. An ensemble piece, this sequel also turns our attentions to Mahmoud (Fares Fares), a doomed Arab who is given a reprieve by Swedish associates so long as he can make a huge payment immediately. Mahmoud shows up at his sister's wedding where their father objects to his presence, insults his appearance, and calls him "dirt." When Mahmoud is short on his payment, he's given orders to find and kill his old friend Jorge Salinas.

Mrado Slovovic (Dragomir Mrsic) ends up in the hospital as part of his prison escape plan. Jorge Salinas (Matias Varela) has to walk away from his family, his home, his drugs, and his partner.

Jorge (Matias Varela) provides the third layer of this story, a drug pusher with a family who plans to stiff some Serbian clientele after his pricey inventory goes missing in a car accident.

Jorge only narrowly escapes to at large status with the assistance of an Eastern European prostitute (Madeleine Martin) with common enemies.

Adapted from criminal lawyer Jens Lapidus' novels by a new team of screenwriters (with one holdover from the first film), Hard to Kill is not interested in the specifics of its crimes, but in the perils and emotional roller coasters of the lifestyles that encompass them. The film uses occasional silent clips from its predecessor for flashbacks, an effective device that adds to its already considerable dramatic weight. These are conscientious criminals, who carry family strife and religious guilt around with them as desperate circumstances demand tough and hasty decisions.

Dispensing its dialogue in Swedish, Spanish, Serbian, Arabic, and a little bit of English, Hard to Kill is consistently absorbing and a fast watch, whether or not you've seen the original.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Cinedigm's Blu-ray treats Hard to Kill to a clean, sharp 2.40:1 presentation. The picture is of a higher caliber than the excerpts from the previous film, which carries slight grain (either naturally or for effect).

The potent, forceful default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack preserves the original mix of languages, with Swedish leading the way. There's also an all-English dub in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. The only reason to consider that is if you haven't figured out how to turn on the English subtitles, which oddly aren't activated by default and cannot be turned on by your player, only through the menus. The English subtitles do not transcribe the English dialogue, which in light of the international cast's assorted accents makes those moments the tougher to understand.

Author Jens Lapidus' prominent billing extends to Snabba Cash II's theatrical trailer... But no the film's US Blu-ray's basic main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

By any standard, the Blu-ray's only extra is Hard to Kill's English-subtitled, Swedish trailer (1:53), which is nicely presented in 1080p and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio.

The silent menu repurposes the cover art, adding some splashes of color. Though the disc does not support bookmarks, it does resume unfinished playback even after the disc is ejected.

No inserts or slipcovers join the plain blue keepcase.

JW (Joel Kinnaman) and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) are back to their old thieving ways in "Easy Money: Hard to Kill" or, as the Swedish call it, "Snabba Cash II.".

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I suspect that those versed in contemporary Swedish cinema
might not be blown away by Easy Money: Hard to Kill, but as someone primarily exposed to English language films and award-contending foreign works, this stylish and evocative thriller stood out. While I can't claim I'll go out of my way to see the first film or keep an eye out for the third's arrival here, I wouldn't be opposed to either, having enjoyed this gripping, substantial installment.

Cinedigm's Blu-ray is basic and minimal discounting render it relatively expensive, but its great picture and sound are highly satisfying and the movie isn't one you'll regret seeing.

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Reviewed March 12, 2014.



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