Handsome rising star Joel Kinnaman (soon to be seen in the “RoboCop” reboot) is both the main selling point and principal charm of this less distinguished sequel to Swedish hit “Easy Money.” Loosely adapted from Jens Lapidus’ crime novel “Never Screw Up,” “Easy Money II” follows the few characters left alive at the end of the first film, depicting a multiethnic underworld that distinguishes this from the monocultural milieu more typical of Nordic noir. Polyglot dialogue in Swedish, Spanish, Serbian, Arabic and English should boost export potential, although the pic’s easiest money will be earned in ancillary.
In the original “Easy Money,” business student JW (Kinnaman) put his undoubted smarts in the service of cocaine smugglers, aiming for a payday to fund his assimilation into the privileged Swedish elite where he believes real career opportunities lie. Now the story jumps ahead three years, as JW is being prepared for day release from prison. Auds who recall JW pumping bullets into the belly of the double-crossing Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) may be surprised to discover that they’re now best friends and cellmates, a remarkable progression given that those gunshot wounds rendered Mrado paraplegic. Both have reason to go on the run at the first opportunity, so JW busts his pal out of hospital custody.
While “Easy Money” scored through the collision of contrasting worlds, as JW juggled his double life while harboring bleeding escaped prisoner Jorge (Matias Varela) in his student dorm room, the protag’s transformation from ambitious innocent into full-fledged gang member cannot be repeated. This time around, there’s less distance for the character to travel, although the additional backstory about his provincial working-class roots does add welcome texture.
As in the original film, attention is also paid to the perpetually unlucky South American Jorge, who connects with sex slave Nadja (Madeleine Martin) when he tries to double-cross Serbian gangsters. Emerging this time as a stronger presence is Lebanese loser Mahmoud (Fares Fares), who must erase his debt to the Serbs in singularly unpleasant fashion. All these characters are seen in their familial context, helping to develop audience empathy. More generically, the narrative is driven by a large bag of cash that successively falls into the hands of the dwindling principals.
With original helmer Daniel Espinosa now pursuing a Hollywood career (“Safe House”), he’s credited here only as executive producer, making way for Tehran-born Swede Babak Najafi (“Snebbe”), one of the pic’s four credited screenwriters. A trim running time of 97 minutes (down from the first film’s 119 minutes) offers a steady stream of violent thrills, as Mrado and JW seek revenge on unscrupulous kingpin Radovan (Dejan Cukic).
Once again, Jon Ekstrand’s ominous score, alternating pounding electronics with delicate guitar strumming, proves an invaluable assist. Tech contributions overall are pro and genre-appropriate.