Monday, October 19, 2009

Royal Flush ’09: Gangster Exchange

Traditions and customs might vary by culture, but dumb muscle is universal. Such is the globalist attitude of Gangster Exchange (trailer here), Dean Bajramovic’s ode to the lowly henchman. The official closing night film of the 2009 Royal Flush Festival, Exchange nicely fits the tattooed, underground spirit of the music and lifestyle magazine for which the fest is named.

Marco “The Immovable Object” and his partner Sasha are disposable soldiers in the Bosnian mafia. They do not even merit a heads-up when their bosses decide to blow away their biker contacts during their regularly scheduled face-to-face. Marco in particular is unhappy, but even he is smart enough not to question his bosses. Grumbling, he moves onto his next assignment: looking after two Japanese couriers on a trial run for a prospective heroin deal with the Bosnians. The yakuza have developed a technique for chemically bonding smack with ceramic, so that toilet Hiro and his partner whisked through customs actually has a multi-million dollar street value.

Unfortunately, when Marco and Sasha deliver their new drinking buddies and the illicit commode for the reconstitution test, the bikers get the drop on them. Suddenly, Marco and Hiro are in business for themselves, if they can stay alive long enough to find a chemist who understands Japanese and is not troubled by trifling ethical concerns.

Employing incidents of over-the-top violence and quirky (occasionally sexually explicit) dialogue for comedic effect, the Tarantino influence is unmistakable in Exchange. However, Bajramovic’s execution is pretty skillful, keeping the action moving along briskly while mining the black humor in every indignity inflicted on the increasingly bloody Marco.

It might not be a star-making role, but as Marco, Christopher Russell certainly plays dumb convincingly. Sarain Boylan also shows some nice comedic timing as Kendra, a chemist who might just fit Marco and Hiro’s requirements. However, the host of eccentric supporting players varies widely in terms of effectiveness. While the hipster dj-grad student is basically an annoying cliché, Aaron Poole’s jittery underworld chemist is surprisingly funny.

Everyone should know going in Exchange is a meathead movie. Of course, it is a bit problematic that a happy ending for the protagonists would involve facilitating a fresh supply of heroin on the streets of New York. Still, that is easily overlooked in a late night festival slot, amongst an appreciative audience. It may not hold up as well for thirteen bucks on a multiplex screen when it opens theatrically in December. Still, it deserves credit for succeeding on its own terms as an entertaining one-bloody-thing-after-another kind of film. The Royal Flush Fest concludes tonight with their "Skullie" Awards at the Slipper Room.