Director Hans Petter Moland’s Norwegian black comedy, 2014’s In Order of Disappearance, didn’t get a huge amount of attention on release, certainly not in the UK or US.
As popular as it was with those who did see it, garnering comparisons to the likes of Fargo, it’s likely the quirky humour didn’t carry over to mainstream audiences, even with the MCU’s Stellan Skarsgard in the lead role.
In this remake, Skarsgard makes way for Liam Neeson, who plays Nels Coxman, a snowplow driver in a snowy resort town by the Rocky Mountains. His job is pretty simple – to keep the main artery road clear for tourists and townsfolk to get to and from the nearby city.
It’s a job that earns him the local Citizen Of The Year accolade, but his sleepy life, holed up in a log cabin with his wife Grace (Laura Dern), is given a jolt when his son turns up dead from an apparent heroin overdose.
When Coxman discovers the truth – that his son was murdered by drug dealers – he sets about exacting revenge, killing one member of the gang at a time, working his way up through the ranks and eventually setting his targets on yuppie drug lynchpin, Viking (Tom Bateman positively chewing up the snowy scenery), who finds himself in a turf war when the other drug dealers – a gang of Native Americans – get the blame for Neeson’s mess.
With the icy backdrop of The Grey, and the murderous tendencies of Taken, this feels like a movie dreamt up by a Netflix algorithm. Just cast Liam Neeson and watch the money roll in.
The thing is, it’s a faithful adaptation of the original movie, which is no surprise given that it boasts the same director. Unfortunately, the offbeat humour that drives the original doesn’t work here. It’s like Moland asked writer Frank Baldwin to run his script through Google translate and didn’t bother to check if it made any sense.
Worse still, there isn’t a single character arc in sight. While you might not expect too much from a schlocky black comedy, it isn’t a lot to ask to have something, or someone, to care about.
There are a variety of subplots that offer hope for such an arc – Emmy Rossum’s eager cop, Dern’s pot-smoking wife, Viking’s super-smart son – but not a single one amounts to a damn thing, and in Dern’s case, she simply disappears from the movie entirely.
That’s not to say it’s a disaster. There are plenty of jokes, landing well mostly thanks to witty editing and over-the-top delivery, and the ‘death cards’ that accompany each passing character punctuate the mood, not letting you forget that we’re in this to see people die, not to see them live.
It’s just frustrating that Moland and co. shun the opportunity to make something worth caring about. They come close to finding something a bit more meaty, a bit more surprising – particularly with a gay twist – but instead, by the time Neeson’s done with his “oh boy, here I go killing again!” schtick, it becomes a film more akin to The Naked Gun than Fargo.
By all means sign up for the slapstick, just don’t expect this to be anywhere near as smart as you’re led to believe.