UK Release Date – TBC
In 1996, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher offered us a grimy, adrenaline fuelled thriller in which a desperate small time crook tried his best to obtain a large sum of money before a bigger and scarier crook made him disappear. After two decades this sort of story is still being retold and recycled even after the official remake has passed from the memory of many viewers. Of course the old crime doesn’t pay idea is nothing new, and truly original ideas are pretty rare these days. It’s all about the execution in many cases. So we come to Suburban Cowboy, in which Long Island crook Jay (Frank Raducz Jr.) finds himself in a sticky situation after one of his underlings upsets a bigger, scarier crook and he becomes responsible for finding a lot of money. When the inspirations are shown so blatantly, does this story have its own kind of style and drama – and does it manage to capture that sense of tension and grit?
The opening credits do at least offer some kind of finesse, with an animated title sequence providing a sketchy black and white taste of things to come. If you’re expecting this to be a one time thing that doesn’t crop up again, well you’d almost be right. Outside one standout moment this kind of visual flair is nowhere to be found later in the film, which is kind of a shame. However it leads us into the life of Jay, a small time distributor who wants to be a comic artist of some kind, as represented by the monochrome graphics. But instead he’s dating a stripper and trading narcotics. His current arrangement sees the goods coming in from Canada, which he then trades in New York via an assortment of lowlife flunkies.
One of them is his good friend Alex (Matty Finochio) who shows up looking a little worse for wear after some nasty business involving a theft to pay off gambling debts. However it’s soon clear that the result of this is the unwanted attention of a few rather angry Euro-villains, primarily Vuk (Zoran Radanovich) the head of a Serbian gang over in Queens. Like all old pals Alex soon runs out on Jay, leaving him to pick up the pieces. It’s obvious that a lot of dodgy deals and unreliable dealers have left Jay without many options as he rushes to find 150,000 dollars in one week. It’s a pretty typical set up, although the pacing and character introductions in the first twenty minutes or so feel pretty rushed. How the rest of the narrative fares is a pretty mixed bah. Soon enough a lot of trite debt collection scenes and meetings with a variety of thugs and losers come along one after another.
Jay himself gets some kind of characterisation at least, though it basically boils down to a series of references to werewolves and inner demons, which is part comic book fantasy and part psychoanalysis. The idea that he’s a big bad predator doesn’t really amount to anything meaningful as things progress – though he does go through a series of violent encounters trying to get back money he’s owed to pay off the antagonists. But the problem is that he’s just another minor hoodlum in the grand scheme of things, which is proven by how easily the Eastern Europeans threaten him, and how quickly his suppliers and old friends are to turn their backs on him.
The underdog struggle clashes with his status as an authority figure and these two ideas never quite gel as things progress. It sometimes feels like a conflict of interest between writers – or in this case directors. The dirtier, lower class problems of one his underlings might have been more compelling, or at the very least more atmospheric. Jay simply goes from one door to another making demands and calling in old favours. It soon becomes just a series of highway scenes in between all the threats. It doesn’t really offer the kind of tension or the sense of escalation you’d anticipate in this kind of crime drama, and an abrupt ending lacks the sort of impact that could have been achieved. It’s a bit too clean, and a bit too flat, and you’ve seen all this done before.