Where does slinkily sleazy end and inadvertently off-putting begin? It’s a question hanging over Wayne Kramer’s follow-up to ‘The Cooler’, a relentlessly excessive gangland thriller clearly channelling the stone-cold amorality of early-’70s crime flicks (‘Prime Cut’, say, or ‘Across 110th St’), but the writer-director’s penchant for extremes ultimately proves the film’s undoing. It starts with the bloodbath of a bungled drugs rendezvous, leaving mob underling Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker, trying hard) to dump a pistol which offed a dodgy cop. Which, of course, he doesn’t do, since he’s stashing weapons in his New Jersey garage as an insurance policy for his young family. Big mistake. Oleg (Cameron Bright), son of the abusive Russian immigrant next door, has had enough of his addled ex-Mafioso dad, shoots him with the very same piece, and disappears into the night.
The idea, presumably, is how we create our own hell through misguided good intentions or imprinting violent solutions on the impressionable young. Sadly, the dizzying plot soon loses track of such whys and wherefores in favour of the short-term buzz of another twist, while it’s hard to square underlying compassion with the callous brutality on show – by the time someone’s had their ear chewed off, we hardly bat an eyelid.
Most troubling, though, is the degree of gun-toting action that Oleg is exposed to and participates in, not to mention a cameo appearance by two sadistic child killers. With audiences jaded by the usual sex and splatter, do the filmmakers have no qualms about juicing up proceedings with edgy but troubling material which clearly needs more conscientious handling? Apparently not.