Lowdown Dirty Criminals

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Lowdown Dirty Criminals
"It made me laugh, a lot, on a day when I wasn’t otherwise laughing."

It begins – doesn’t it always? – with a Mexican stand-off. A bar-full of low lifes pointing guns and growling across the room at one another. This is not going to end well. Though in case you couldn’t tell, an endearingly innocent voiceover from protagonist Freddy (James Rolleston), who takes woebegone to new heights, or maybe depths, says it all: “Have you ever had one of those days where everything just turns to shit?”

Uh huh. So Lowdown Dirty Criminals begins, Tarantino-style, at the end, with a climax and an instant flashback. How did we get here? And this is swiftly followed by a flashback within a flashback. Flashback squared.

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It all begins when Freddy, as lowly pizza delivery boy, is stiffed by one of his clients. There must be more to life than this. So Freddy and best buddy Marv (Samuel Austin) sign up to run errands for local mobster-cum-psychopath Spiggs (Paul Wills).

Bad move. The guy - did we mention? - is a psychopath. So when our would-be criminal duo screw up their first assignment, trashing not only Spiggs’ special birthday cake but also his car, there is a price to pay. In this case, knocking off Donny Kong who just happens to have been knocking off Mrs Spiggs.

What could be easier? Apparently, almost anything for the hapless pair, who are to organised crime what Laurel and Hardy are to piano-shifting. A swift case of mistaken identity leads to their being responsible, in a roundabout way, for the death of Jeff Kwok, a behemoth of a man who happens to be staying at Donny’s apartment. Except Jeff just happens to have been targeted by rival crime boss 'the Upholsterer' (Rebecca Gibney) for stealing something of immense value from her.

So Marv and Freddy are there to kill Donny and Jeff ends up dead; and the Upholsterer’s henchmen are there to deal with Jeff and instead first Donny and then Marv and Freddy cross their path. Like lambs to the slaughter. Of which there is much, in suitably gory fashion.

What can one say? Lowdown Dirty Criminals is not especially original in either form or concept. Though maybe it is the first movie of this genre to grace the streets of Wellington, New Zealand, where it was made, with the endorsement of the New Zealand Film Commission.

The plot twists are so obvious and so obviously telegraphed that the film is pretty much its own spoiler. Having met this or that character, you just know that they are going to meet an unpleasant end within 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3….and bang! There they go.

It’s messy, ever so slightly (at 87 minutes) on the short side. On the other hand it has energy. From the very beginning, with its slightly off, intelligent captioning, through to dialogue that is sharp, or at least makes you snort in a gasp-I-can't-believe-they-went-there sort of way.

“Are you on fucking meth? “ asks one of the Upholsterer’s henchpersons. “No, not today”, replies his monumentally stupid partner.

Or, Spiggs, holding a gun to Marv’s head and ranting down the phone at Freddy “We’re not square as a bear until Donny’s cock is in my hands.” This latter is, of course, no merely innocent reference to his requirement for proof of death, and hence mission accomplished, as events head ever faster southward.

Yes, it’s coarse. Crude. If you don’t like bad language, lewd sexual references, or the sight of a woman up to her wrists in the corpse of a large guy’s entrails, desperately hunting the McGuffin that set all this mayhem on its course, you won’t like this.

Call me twisted, but I did. It made me laugh, a lot, on a day when I wasn’t otherwise laughing. And for the softer souls out there, the film comes with an opening dedication “For Dad” and a sotto voce theme about a son - in this case, Freddy - reconciling with the death of his own father.

All in all, a creditable outing for director Paul Murphy and writer David Brechin-Smith. Flicking through the pages of Rotten Tomatoes, it is clear that it divided the critics. Some were not impressed by the fact that it reprises an established genre, was not quite as finished as it might have been. Others loved it.

I loved it. Sit back. Surrender your critical faculties for an hour and a half. Enjoy!

Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2020
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Lowdown Dirty Criminals packshot
A black comedy about two incompetent friends who prove inept at delivering pizza and decide to try their luck at crime.

Director: Paul Murphy

Writer: David Brechin-Smith

Starring: James Rolleston, Samuel Austin, Francis Biggs, Unaloto Funaki

Year: 2020

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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