Lovers of Scandi crimers are in luck: It’s the heyday of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. As Morten Tyldum’s art-heist thriller “Headhunters,” based on a Nesbo book, rolls out internationally, hot on its heels comes the droll and grungy “Jackpot,” based on an original Nesbo story written with the screen in mind. Tightly scripted by helmer Magnus Martens, this blackly comic, pulpy caper unspools at a rollicking pace, with multiple homages revealing his keen knowledge of genre. “Jackpot” pays out as entertaining fare for cinephiles and the average Joe not averse to well-contextualized gore, and should appeal to savvy distributors.
Opening with a literal bang and filled with jaw-dropping twists, the story alternates between the investigation of a messy crime scene at stripper bar/porn shop Pink Heaven and flashbacks showing how witness/suspect Oscar (Kyrre Hellum) wound up there, bloody and terrified, beneath a fat woman’s corpse. It’s a tale of dishonor among thieves that offers a sly tip of the hat to the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”
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In a small town in southeastern Norway, near the Swedish border, Oscar works at the Evergreen plant, supervising troublesome ex-cons as they produce artificial Christmas trees. When Oscar joins psychopath Billy (Arthur Berning), slow-thinking loser Thor (Mads Ousdal) and ever-grinning Dan (Andreas Cappelen) in a soccer betting pool, the quartet defies the odds and winds up with a winning ticket. But given the personalities involved, it stands to reason that the multimillion-kronor payout won’t be split four ways, and that the factory’s wood chipper and nail gun will be put to nefarious use.
As Oscar recounts his version of events, Inspector Solar (Henrik Mestad) listens incredulously. Meanwhile, the death count rises, body parts are scattered hither and yon, and a tanning bed, a Swedish pig farm and a greedy landlord (Fridtjov Saheim) enter the mix.
In his sophomore feature, helmer Martens delivers on the promise he displayed in his debut, “United,” creating a stylish and pacey action-comedy full of spot-on performances, inspired but gruesome gags, with crack comic timing and barbed dialogue. A wry soundtrack and hipster music choices also support the mood.
The craft contributions are uniformly strong; particularly noteworthy are Lina Nordqvist’s clever, increasingly red-spattered production design and Trond Hoines’ crisp widescreen lensing.
With “Jackpot” and “Headhunters” more blackly comic than is typical of Nesbo’s work, it will be interesting to see how audiences respond to the upcoming Martin Scorsese-helmed adaptation of bestseller “Snowman,” featuring iconic Nesbo detective Harry Hole.