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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Easy Money’ proves Swedish crime does pay

Easy Money

(R)

3 stars

The last time somebody made a Swedish crime thriller it went on to become one of the top 10 highest-grossing foreign language films in U.S. history. Although it also came from a best-selling novel and has done huge business in its homeland since its 2010 release, it's unlikely that "Easy Money" will do nearly as much business as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Far from the typical mob flick, "Easy Money" should be used by each and every criminal justice system in the country as a crime deterrent. If every first-time petty thief, drug dealer or errant juvenile delinquent saw it, they'd think twice about pursuing a career in crime.

The title (translated from the Swedish "Snabba Cash") explains a lot. It's akin to the terms "sure thing" and "free lunch." If money -- in this case a bunch of it -- came easy there would be people lining up by the millions for their cut. It's amazing what stupid things otherwise smart people will do when promised huge amounts of dough in exchange for very little actual work.

JW (Joel Kinnaman) has no desire whatsoever to be in the mob and the closest he gets to it is toting a few of them around town in his illegally operated taxi. A college student majoring in economics and finance, JW only drives the taxi so he can run with a tonier crowd and impress rich girls and he's pretty good at it. He dresses like the many male models pictured on his dorm room wall and could easily be a model himself but would rather be a banker.

It takes a while but JW eventually latches on to a girl with superior lineage who has just dumped one of JW's not-quite friends. Recognizing JW has the smarts to improve the bottom line at his father's bank, the friend gives JW his first taste of real success and he loves it.

At this particular bank, they wash a lot of dirty money and JW eventually catches the eye of a mob boss who wants him to do something kind-of, sort-of the same for a huge cocaine deal. With little effort and some innovative number-crunching, JW will get a huge payoff -- easy money.

Sticking strictly with JW full time for the entire two hour running length probably wouldn't have worked and writers Fredrik Wikstrom and Jens Lapidus (adapting his own novel) perhaps overcompensate by adding maybe a few too many subplots and secondary characters.

Russian thug Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) figures into the mix at some point, but a sub-subplot involving his young daughter feels unnecessary and forced. More natural and far more useful to the big picture is Jorge (Matias Varela), a Spanish drug runner who has just escaped from prison and provides the vital link to the cocaine. He's the only character in the story that can't be replaced or trifled with, something everybody involved is acutely aware of.

The best facet of "Easy Money" is its avoidance of most mob movie cliches. Much of this is due in part because it takes place in a corner of the world not normally associated with organized crime and that there are no Italian characters. Sad as it might be, there are some folks who wrongfully feel that if a movie like this doesn't feature Italians at some point, it can't really be considered a mob flick.

The movie will also appeal to the vast majority of people (mostly women) who avoid mob movies in general because of the violence factor. There is some violence in "Easy Money" but none of it is gratuitous or graphic and no one fires a shot in anger until well into the third act. That's a brave choice and one for which director Daniel Espinosa deserves immense credit.

In the end, most of the characters get what they deserve, which is the point of the film. It might be sexy and appear to be easy, but finding lasting success as a criminal or walking away unscathed is not something that's going to happen to anyone. Everyone's luck runs out eventually.

Presented in Swedish, Arabic, Spanish, Russian and occasional English with English subtitles. (Weinstein)