★★★★ - FILMINK
- New Zealand has been killing it at the cinema over the last few years. While it’s a little too easy to attribute that solely to the rising star of cringe, maestro Taika Waititi, that still wouldn’t account for everyone else who’s been bringing their A-game of late. Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek razing rom-com clichés to the ground with The Breaker Upperers, horror producer Ant Timpson stepping into the chair with Come To Daddy, Kiel McNaughton’s masterful Legend Of Baron To’a, even Matt Murphy’s remake of the classic Goodbye Pork Pie; the long white cloud is sticking around, and audiences are all the better for it. And it looks like Paul Murphy is joining those ranks with his latest.
A darkly comical crime caper taking place over a single screwed-up day, Lowdown Dirty Criminals is cut from a similar cloth to the Brit-hard stylings of Guy Ritchie. The clashing character perspectives, the convoluted plotting that’s reliant on misunderstandings piled on top of more misunderstandings, even the magnetic personalities of the cast; without feeling entirely derivative, it makes use of a lot of what made Ritchie’s better outings so aggressively watchable.
Part of that is down to David Brechin-Smith’s writing, which maintains a well-postured balance between black comedy and crime grit, but a lot of it is because of the incredibly choice casting. James Rolleston is in prime scene-stealing form once again as Freddy, a pizza delivery man stuck in the middle of the chaos, while Rebecca Gigney as the Upholsterer is equal parts professional and deliciously nutty (big Mistress T energy), making for an intense antagonist. Robbie Magasiva and Cohen Holloway as Semo and Roy respectively get a lot of chuckles with their straight-man/meth-head routine, and Min Kim as Donny Kong kicks some serious arse during a particular action scene.
Its genre thrills are good and plenty, whether it’s shotgun-toting schoolchildren or Gibney selling an unauthorised autopsy scarily well, but its truest merit comes in how it deals with its influences. There’s definite Guy Ritchie in here, with a bit of Tarantino stylisation, and even some Burn After Reading-esque calamity… but rather than be straight worship, it’s also delightfully subversive.
Lowdown Dirty Criminals taps into familiar crime tropes like revenge, redemption, and the trap that is a life of street crime, but it approaches them with a level head and a willingness to look at the chaos and go ‘fuck this shit, I’m out’. This is shown best through Freddy’s character arc, which sees him go from pizza boy to criminal patsy to grown-ass man, making for a refreshing approach to this type of rock-and-a-hard-place protagonist. For him, the only thing separating a job well done and a clusterfuck is about 200lbs., and a weak heart.
A rollercoaster ride that is as rib-ticklingly funny as it is rib-crushingly brutal, Lowdown Dirty Criminals is the kind of crime comedy that knows its reference points, both in what’s worth keeping around and what’s worth dissecting.
Lowdown Dirty Criminals is now playing at Light House Cinema!