Do we really need another cautionary tale about an ambitious drug dealer dramatically falling from grace? Director Luis Prieto and screenwriter Matthew Read thought this scenario warranted further attention, but their remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s hyper-kinetic 1996 gangster film of the same name is completely forgettable. Nearly a carbon copy of the original, Pusher charts one downright terrible week in the life of Frank (Richard Coyle), a charming low-level scumbag who finds himself in deep trouble after losing a drug shipment belonging to an Eastern European thug named Milo (Zlatko Buric). The plot, which follows Frank’s escalating desperation and alienation from the world he once traversed freely, tracks almost the same trajectory as the original, with the change of location (from Copenhagen to London) seemingly the only measurable difference between the films.
Swooshing credits and bright pastel colors flood the opening, followed by a series of quick cuts and freeze frames that self-indulgently introduce the litany of drugged-out characters. Movement is key to Prieto’s gritty vision of the London drug scene, so much so that the fidgety handheld camera sacrifices all coherence. As this numbing aesthetic prides visual surfaces over complex characterizations, it’s clear that the film is intended as homage, albeit a thoughtless and hollow one, to the canons of Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, and Refn himself. But the use of eccentric locations as backdrops to scenes of sudden and brutal violence is sometimes interesting. Inside the expansive bridal shop that subs as Milo’s headquarters, a plethora of white dresses become blank canvases for inevitable sprays of blood. And within a cramped pet store where Frank finally realizes the brutal cost of his own disloyalty to those he once considered friends, there’s an inedible image of an adoring dog standing over its owner’s body.
Too bad Frank’s struggle to survive is littered with heavy-handed chase sequences and inert standoffs that foreshadow disaster a mile away. In turn, there’s no sense of danger to the film, even when the cards are so intensely stacked against Frank that he turns into a full-fledged psycho, ripping off drug parties and shaking down friends. Even worse, any potential singularity the shift in location might produce (cultural, societal) is completely ignored in favor of flashy aesthetic posturing and wise-talking dialogue sequences the reek of contrivance. Though it ends in a moment of striking, albeit highfalutin ambiguity, Pusher is a completely formulaic effort that hinges on the liberal borrowing of tropes and scenarios from better genre films.