Liam Hemsworth takes a machete stab at playing a furious antihero in writer-director Malik Bader’s testosterone-soaked crime thriller “Killerman,” a movie made by men, about simplistically ruthless men, aimed to entice other men aching for those manly outdated movies “they don’t make anymore,” where distorted alpha masculinity was solely portrayed through vicious violence, gratuitous sex, and impenetrable coldness.
Tired of the minimal cut they receive from money laundering in NYC, gracelessly ambitious Skunk (Emory Cohen) and well-groomed hustler Moe (Hemsworth) plan to make their own big move buying cocaine for cheap with money that belongs to Skunk’s uncle, an archetypical kingpin played by Zlatko Buric (“Teen Spirit”). Cohen leans heavily on a thick New York accent, while Hemsworth builds his drug dealer swagger with flamboyant shirts and a nonchalant walk.
“Moe, you are a fucking godsend,” says Skunk about the brother-in-crime he has only known for about two years, a curious fact considering plenty of films about urban criminal partnerships rely on their bond existing from their formative years in the same rough environment. Nevertheless, Skunk blindly trusts Moe. Their relatively recent but tested friendship, and how it’s redefined every time the narrative throws them a disruptive curveball, serves as the movie’s emotive core.
As “Killerman” piles on the tropes, the two men’s secretive arrangement goes expectedly awry when they are intercepted by a group of corrupt cops who set them up. A car chase ensues, and though they manage to get away, Moe injures his head and is rendered amnesiac. With the loss of his memory, his moral code kicks in, making him doubt Skunk’s sincerity and his own lawbreaking lifestyle.
In a bizarrely out-of-place instance, Moe comes across a man he doesn’t remember, and with whom we as viewers also haven’t seen him interact before. Apparently, said man doesn’t believe Moe has lost his memory, so he grabs his buttocks with sexually aggressive innuendo to provoke him, insidiously claiming they were lovers. The scene’s purpose might relate to proving dominance, but it’s a transgression that reeks of homophobia.
Bader fails to milk this twist for all its psychologically disturbed potential, though there are glimpses of that in Hemsworth’s consistently erratic performance. Introspection is absent, as Moe, unable to piece together his previous reality in his psyche, undergoes a transformation from level-headed swindler to savage murderer. His stoical decisiveness is reminiscent of Ryan Gosling in “Only God Forgives,” just much less intriguing.
Macho posturing and crass language brimming with sexism — not to mention multiple moments in which characters lividly screaming in each other’s faces is passed off as acting — are employed as primitive, personality-building blocks by the primarily male cast, including Cohen’s Skunk. The only time any of them open their mouths is to recite a stock phrase from the bad-guys textbook that may just as well have been copy-pasted from any the lesser, more generic examples of the genre. Anticipating story beats and even lines of dialogue results in an easy task.
Phallocentric to a fault, “Killerman” features scarce femininity. Diane Guerrero (“Orange Is the New Black”) has the distinction of being the only woman included for a reason other than the men’s sexual pleasure. As Moe’s girlfriend, Guerrero gets a few lines of dialogue before fading away.
Bader’s highest profile work to date is derivative at best. There’s an aesthetic commitment to replicating the ominous ambience and gritty spaces of similarly themed movies of the ’70s and ’80s, like “Dirty Harry,” “Serpico,” or even “Taxi Driver.” Granted, those examples have withstood the test of time because their inquiries into cruelty and deception had something incisive to say about who we are.
In the muted color scheme of the locations and Ken Seng’s drably lit cinematography, the homage succeeds, but “Killerman” lacks personality both stylistically and in its overall story construction. Terrified of quiet moments, Bader also slaps Julian DeMarre and Heiko Maile’s run-of-the-mill synthesizer music from start to finish, desperately trying to escalate the intensity of whatever is happening on screen.
Insightful character development is sacrificed in the name of a final revelation that’s supposed to put everything we’ve seen, as well as Moe’s relationships, into perspective. Moe and Skunk’s banter remains surface-level throughout, and details about either’s lives outside of the handful of days we followed them are missing, all to prevent us from suspecting the truth. The gamble Bader takes, depriving its film of three-dimensional humans and complexly motivated actions, pays off for a brief instant in shock value because of its implications, but doesn’t justify how archaically tiresome the bulk of it turned out.
For the most part, the kindest thing that can be said about “Killerman” is that it’s apathetically standard with layers of obsolete toxicity. It’s a good option for those out there sick of so-called “political correctness,” and who dream of returning to the days where the glorification of such attitudes went unchecked; for anyone else, there’s not a good a movie here.