It's more Danes and cocaines, and Christmas just doesn't get any whiter than that in Cocainehagen! Maybe Nicolas Winding Refn saw that Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" was awesome when it came out the same year as the original "Pusher", even though it was four hours almost entirely of Shakespearian dialogue, so he must have figured that a Christmas release date was the secret to a good, overly talkative Danish drama... or something. I don't know, maybe those in charge of this crime thriller's release date have a morbid sense of humor, and I'm just stretching to try and figure out why in the world Refn is revisiting this property, you know, outside of the fact that the first "Pusher" had so much to say that it just couldn't get it all out in one film. Man, that film dragged its feet something fierce, and you know what, this film isn't that much better, though it is nevertheless better, probably because it focuses so much more on Mads Mikkelsen, who is awesome, by the ways. There you go, this sequel was made as a vehicle for Mikkelsen's awesomeness, and it only took a mere eight years... for fans of the first "Pusher" to finally wake up. Hey, it probably would have taken them longer to release this product if "King Arthur" didn't also come along in 2004 and leave Nicolas Winding Refn to uphold his duties as a Danish man of film and defend the integrity of Mikkelsen, whose awesomeness, to me, wasn't that watered down by "King Arthur", seeing as how I actually kind of liked the bloated Bruckheimer blockbuster... at least more so than 1996's "Pusher" and this film. There, people, I said it, and it's because stuff actually happened in "King Arthur", though that didn't stop Refn from trying to figure out some way to "push" out another one of these films, which I'm not cool with me, because, again, this isn't that much better, and yet, that just means that this film has some strengths as surely as its predecessor did.
The collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and cinematographer Morten Søborg continues with this sequel, and more money and experience behind the partnerships results in a sharper visual style, for although the photographic value of this film is only slightly better than that of its predecessor, definition is more relatively crisp, and color plays are relatively tasteful, thus creating some compliments to the immersive filming style that was found in the last film... to a certain extent. Relying on grit and shaky cam for realistic effect, this film's intentionally sloppy shooting style is probably more aggravating than immersive, due to limitations in directorial effectiveness, but with this film, there's more to catch your eye, and that makes what immersion value there is to visual style all the more absorbing. Immersion value works when Nicolas Winding Refn's direction works, and seeing as how there is indeed some immersion value to this film's style, that means that there are, in fact, effective moments in Winding Refn's thoroughly questionable directorial performance, which is slightly more celebratory of an atmospheric score - courtesy of the returning Peter Peter and Povl Kristian substitute Keli Hlodversson - and graphic imagery in order to establish some tension, and also gets a little less caught up in meanderings. Needless to say, this film still meanders to the point of collapsing as dull, unfocused and all around mediocre, but brighter glimpses into potential can be seen through more inspiration on Winding Refn's behalf as director. This, of course, leaves the film to at least border on decency, but not without the help of onscreen talent, which was the only consistent strength of the predecessor, and remains the only consistent strength in this installment, for although acting material is limited, most everyone convinces, and typically charismatically, with leading man Mads Mikkelsen being particularly effective in his portrayal of a drug pusher and junkie who will suffer some unexpected and unwanted turns in his generally relaxed and thoroughly questionable life. Not even the acting bites as hard as it could have, but there's at least some onscreen talent to keep you going at times, and while that doesn't quite cut it when it comes to saving the final product as decent, it's just one of a couple of highlights that bring the film to the brink of decency. Of course, like I said, that's just not enough, and no matter how much the film engages at times, on the whole, it distances, just as its predecessor did, partly, if not largely because the narrative is a mess even in concept.
The film's rather minimalist subject matter offers only so much meat to begin with, and that is really brought to your attention by this plot concept's exploring the same idea as its predecessor's story concept of intentionally meandering in an overly naturalist fashion that is too questionable to be effective, because even though this film is decidedly more focused and less do-little than its predecessor, it still pays too much attention to nothing outside of life being lived. This story concept very rarely works all that well, and it sure doesn't work here, being by no means helped by the limitations to likability within the characters who are focused upon too intensely, or by what intrigue there is to this subject matter's being diluted at this point, where there is a little more eventfulness, but not enough to keep this film from feeling too much like its predecessor, which was itself a little too familiar, following a formula that had been hit by plenty of questionable films by 1996, and was hit many more times between that year and 2004. No matter how questionable this "plot" concept is, way too many people still explore it, so on top of being as limp as a noodle that you leave in a boiling pot when you actually visit Denmark for a few days (Yes, there's that much water to vaporize in the pot), this film isn't even refreshing, and that makes for one seriously bland narrative concept, made all the more bland by Nicolas Winding Refn's taking too long to tell a familiar tale that was always to meander. No matter how do-little this plot is on paper, there's no getting past Winding Refn's script's monotonous excessiveness with filler, as well as material that, before too long, begins to convolute focus, when it's there at all, that is. Like I've been saying time and again, there is more focus to this film, and yet, there's still hardly any focus to this near-lifeless, tediously structured drama, which still would have been decent if Refn's direction didn't match the tedium of his script. The biting moments to Winding Refn's meditative direction are there, but man, they are very few and far between, being bridged primarily by a bone-dry atmosphere that dulls things down to no end, establishing considerable challenges to not only your attention, if not consciousness, but your investment. There is hardly anything endearing about this film's cold, paceless atmosphere, resting behind a do-little, if anything at all narrative, and that pretty much kills the film, maybe not to where it collapses into contempt, or even to the level of mediocrity as its even lamer predecessor, but nevertheless to where the final product falls flat as a sometimes well-done, yet generally uncompelling crime "thriller".
In closing, cinematography is a bit sharper, while Nicolas Winding Refn's direction retains its highlights, and performances retain their charisma, broken up by effectiveness, and that's enough to bring the final product to the brink of decency, but not enough to prevent a do-nothing story concept, made all the more tedious by a lack of originality and a wealth of meandering, unfocused material, backed by a punishingly dull atmosphere, from driving "Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands" into utter mediocrity.
2.25/5 - Mediocre