×

Film Review: ‘Blood Money’

This seriocomic neo-noir starts unevenly, but eventually summons up enough perversity to comprise a fun, semi-guilt-free experience.

Director:
Lucky McKee
With:
Ellar Coltrane, Willa Fitzgerald, Jacob Artist, John Cusack, Ned Bellamy.
Release Date:
Oct 13, 2017

1 hour, 25 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3758852/combined

Stumbling upon $8 million dollars in stolen currency on a wilderness trip doesn’t turn out so well for three young friends — surprise! — in “Blood Money.” It’s not particularly plausible placing bratty 20-year-olds in classic noirish circumstances of greed and betrayal, with John Cusack more weird than menacing as the criminal they’ve unwittingly tangled with. But this open-air thriller is decently crafted by director Lucky McKee (whose prior films have landed closer to horror terrain), and it eventually summons up enough seriocomic neo-noir perversity to comprise a fun, semi-guilt-free ride. Saban Films is opening the movie on 10 screens nationwide Oct. 13, simultaneously with Liongate’s VOD release.

After a first year of college, Lynn (Willa Fitzgerald), Jeff (Jacob Artist) and Victor (Ellar Coltrane) reunite for an annual rafting/camping trip. Actually, not everyone got some higher education —while track star Lynn won an athletic scholarship, and brash, brawny Jeff’s wealthy family footed his tuition bill, Victor labored for minimum wage in the small town where they’ve known each other since childhood. Sensitive Vic also has lingering issues around his terminated high school romance with Lynn. These are exacerbated when it turns out his ex-girlfriend and his best friend have since become an item.

Meanwhile, white-collar embezzler Miller (Cusack) is fleeing authorities via the small plane he abandons to crash in the forest as he parachutes down with four heavy duffel bags of loot. He lands in one place, they in another — on a riverbank, where Lynn happens to find them on her morning run after a night of drunken three-way arguments. As in noirs of yore, this hitherto ordinary all-American lass immediately develops blinding, mercenary dollar signs in her eyes upon glimpsing a potential major personal gain, and is soon willing to sacrifice anyone in her path.

This sort of thing worked better when it was played by the likes of Lizbeth Scott or Gloria Grahame, who might’ve been young themselves at the time but were already palpably adults capable of embodying pulp-fiction Machiavellian deceit. As written and played here, Lynn is a tantrum-prone juvenile princess not greatly assisted by two male besties who aren’t so mature either, and who apparently never glimpsed her femme fatale potential despite lifelong alliance. For a while, “Blood Money” is like watching adenoidal tweens re-enact “Double Indemnity”; it’s fun, but pretty silly.

Then there’s Cusack, inexplicably lurking about in black ninja pajamas (or as Vic puts it, “looking like a Metallica roadie”), as if that’s going to somehow blend in with the sylvan settings. The actor, who himself once seemed inseparable from teen roles, has been hit-and-miss in finding appropriate vehicles in recent years. He’s gone darker before to good effect: he was startling as the villain in Lee Daniels’ nutty “The Paperboy.” Here, however, he’s closer to the wiseguy persona of his formative screen years, which simply distracts from what seems to be a straightforward thriller plot. Yet while Miller never becomes a more organic character than the actor’s riff, he does grow more congruous with the general tenor.

A chronic knee injury, river rapids, an ill-starred park ranger (Ned Bellamy), claustrophobia and a disused industrial tunnel all factor into the later progress, which grows more blackly comedic after the midpoint as the action escalates. This is good, because it means that “Blood Money” no longer asks to be taken seriously, and can be enjoyed as a moderately eccentric action-suspense goof.

Nonetheless, there remain some real problems with the screenplay, as it lurches between humor, thrills and cloddish psychological realism. The lumpy mix is considerably smoothed by McKee, whose interesting résumé to date includes the morbid character study “May” as well as several adaptations of disturbing Jack Ketchum novels. Whether due to an editorial or screenplay decision, however, the movie loses tension from the pat device of opening with a flash-forward, giving us a too-explicit preview of climactic narrative events that will play out 80-odd minutes later.

The Georgia-shot feature looks very nice in Alex Vendler’s widescreen cinematography, with other design/tech contributions strong — though Matt Gates’ score is occasionally too bombastically conventional.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Blood Money'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2017. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Saban Films release of a Saban Films presentation in association with Radiant Films Intl. and Hoylake Capital of an EMA production. Producers: David Tish, David Buelow, Lee Nelson. Executive producers: Pete Abrahams, Kelly Socha, Pete Letz, Wendy Moore, Peter Filardi, Ness Saban, Shanan Becker, Jonathan Saba. Co-producers: Jared Butler, Lars Norberg. CREW: Director: Lucky McKee. Screenplay: Jared Butler, Lars Norberg. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Alex Vender. Editor: Zach Passero. Music: Matt Gates.

With: Ellar Coltrane, Willa Fitzgerald, Jacob Artist, John Cusack, Ned Bellamy.

More Film

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content