Clunker, by Craig Schroeder
The new film Jackpot, from Norwegian filmmaker Magnus Martens (who hit a home-run in the name department), is just a shrug. It has a few laughs and is composed nicely, but it’s merely another subpar entry in an ever-expanding list of derivative post-noir, (vaguely) self-aware crime films. It is as bland as skim-milk at the bottom of a bowl of corn flakes. It’s a film that I remember less of now than when I started this sentence.
Distilled, the plot is pretty simple: four friends win a truck load of money in a one-in-a-million bet, and try to survive each other long enough to claim the winnings. The film opens with a shoot-out in an adult toy store. The only survivor, Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), the floor manager of a Christmas tree factory, is questioned by a detective and the story leading up to the shootout unfolds in flashback. Most of the story-beats feel like audience suggestions in an improv game: Name an interesting place to work?! A plastic Christmas tree factory! Where’s an odd place for a gunfight?! A sex toy shop! Martens and Jo Nesbo (who wrote the novel on which the film is based) seem to be having a blast dreaming up scenes that amount to nothing more than sometimes amusing vignettes, but it comes at the cost of anything genuinely interesting. In a genre that is becoming more and more crowded, Jackpot does little to help itself stand out among all the others.
Martens is obviously influenced by the Coen Brothers–at one point a body is disposed of down a factory chute that sprays blood and chopped up remains out the other side. But, unlike the Coens, Martens has a hard time balancing fun and violence. The film is a study on violence as a product of greed; when Oscar and his friends–who are actually his co-workers at the aforementioned Christmas tree factory, which hires from a pool of ex-cons–come into a fortune, the gears start turning and each man begins to plot how to reduce the number of recipients in a four-way split. But Martens has difficulty shifting between comedic and serious plot points. The first time the characters face possible ramifications for their actions is during an Abbott-and-Costello-like routine wherein they’re attempting to hide a body from a dopey police officer. These kind of scenes, often featuring elaborate gags and set pieces, aren’t terribly funny and, ultimately, undercut the gravity of the situation. The film has a few laughs, but not enough to forgive Martens for minimizing his film’s thesis with pedestrian comedy.
Though narratively and thematically tedious, Jackpot can be fun to watch. The scenes in the sex toy store (which apparently doubles as a fully functional topless bar, lest you think there’s no scantily clad women shoe-horned into the film) are visually assaulting–shot in harsh neon pink and the editing becomes quick and chaotic– a choice which compliments the violence that unfolds inside. The story structure allows Martens to do some interesting things; knowing that Oscar survives the mayhem makes his idiosyncrasies and neuroses play as comedic eccentricities (though often ill-conceived) rather than tragic flaws. But these pros are just brief glimpses into an interesting film, before Martens ultimately concedes to making something significantly duller.
Jackpot seems like a bad title for a film. The original Norwegian title, Arme Riddere (which Google Translate tells me means “french toast”), is more compelling, albeit a bit confusing. But Jackpot may be the perfect name for this film. It’s a name that begs to be forgotten. It’s not vivd or compelling, nor does it evoke the film’s themes or motifs. It’s not a terribly offensive title. It’s just there. It’s a title that I will fail to recall in a week. In this case, Jackpot is a film deserving of its particularly forgetful English-language title.