Long before he’d wow audiences with tales of celebrity convicts and stoic stunt drivers, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn made a name for himself with his 1996 debut, Pusher, a feature-length version of his student short about a drug dealer. A grimy tour of Copenhagen’s criminal underworld, the movie immediately suggested that Refn could be a go-to guy for interesting genre exercises; the notion was confirmed when he released two more Pusher installments in 2004 and 2005, both of which added nuances to the original’s Euro-pulp grottiness. No such sense of discovery awaits viewers who stumble into this remake, however. Refn may have lent his name as an executive producer and his blessing to Spanish director Luis Prieto, but the inventiveness of the original is MIA. What’s left is just an empty sense of hyped-up style and the sort of quickly diminishing synthetic high you’d get from the protagonist’s product.
Despite relocating the story to London—all the better to blast loads of laddish energy at you—the song itself remains virtually the same: Frank (Richard Coyle) peddles coke to jittery clubgoers. A big deal goes very wrong; the local kingpin (Zlatko Buric) either wants the drugs back or the dough Frank owes him, forcing the pusher to play beat-the-clock. Coyle’s got charisma to spare—imagine a hard-man version of Andy Serkis—but even his screen presence eventually gets smothered by the film’s cartoonish version of ethnic gangsters, macho caricatures and bruised-heart-of-gold hookers. The phrase accept no substitutes has rarely seemed so applicable.
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