After biding his time for 16 years, Nicolas Winding Refn seems to have sprung into action and lent his name to variants of his original "Pusher" film across Europe in an attempt to corner the market. Hence his executive producer credit on "Black's Game," a vibrant and darkly engaging story of Icelandic drug dealers at the turn of the millennium; and almost simultaneously the same credit on the new British remake of "Pusher" itself, from which anything engaging and vibrant seem to have been ruthlessly purged.
The new "Pusher" comes from Spanish director Luis Prieto and British writer Matthew Read, who know that the surest way to make an existing plot feel more Anglo-Saxon is to crank up the fixation with pee, poo and buggery. The film is relentlessly foul-mouthed from the off, and not in the clumsy male-bonding style of the original. "Pusher" version 1.0 had an early conversation between actors Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen about facials and water sports which suggested that neither of them had likely done any such thing. The new one kicks off with Richard Coyle and Bronson Webb giving it large and loud and venomous about how many bags of drugs a woman can fit fore and aft, from which your sunken heart may never fully recover.
Losing all the frictions between different Europeans in favor of a general English abrasiveness toward foreigners might be hard to fault on accuracy grounds, but the film mostly seems to be sour just for the sake of it. The hapless addict bullied into suicide is now a helpless old shopkeeper in a scraggly woolly hat, crushed under the wheels of modern Britain. The bodybuilders' club has become a penthouse orgy run by none other than Paul Kaye, so rancid that penicillin may be growing on his bathrobe but apparently still getting all the action he can handle.
The weirdest thing about the film is not a change at all: Zlatko Buric plays local big-wheel Milo yet again, having done so in all three previous "Pusher" films. The idea that he actually is the same guy — 16 years later and still having to get the electrified nipple clamps out — is the kind of comforting idea you can cling to while wondering if it isn't time to tow Britain into the Atlantic and scuttle it.
Most notably of all, the sweet, elfin girlfriend previously played by Laura Drasbaek has turned into Agyness Deyn. They roughly share a hair style, but the change lets the film have its aspirational cake and eat it too: Drug pushers of dubious competence can snag supermodel girlfriends, and look how daintily they inject, bathed in a luscious neon light of the gods and backed with a love theme by Orbital. Whatever lessons the original "Pusher" had about young men and their pain, the remake may have gotten the wrong end of the stick.
Opens on Oct. 12 in Britain and on Oct. 26 in Manhattan.
Directed by Luis Prieto; written by Matthew Read, based on the original screenplay “Pusher” by Nicolas Winding Refn and Jens Dahl; director of photography, Simon Dennis; edited by Kim Gaster; music by Orbital; production design by Sarah Webster; costumes by Alexandra Mann; produced by Rupert Preston, Christopher Simon and Felix Vossen; released by Vertigo Films(Britain) and Radius-TWC (United States). Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is rated 18 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.
WITH: Richard Coyle (Frank), Agyness Deyn (Flo), Bronson Webb (Tony) and Zlatko Buric (Milo).