Current movie trends and audience tastes seem to prefer, overall, a bright, shiny, redemptive and hopeful product, the rampaging box-office success of “Batman v Superman” notwithstanding. But those of us who are also attracted to stories at cinemas involving less noble examples of humanity have nonetheless been well-served over the years. So much so that “Kill Your Friends,” a confidently-made new British feature starring Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: Days Of Future Past”) as a serial killing A & R record man, may provoke déjà vu in even the slightly adventurous moviegoer.
The characters here mistake their insane levels of drug-taking and entitled positions in life for something of value, but unfortunately so do the filmmakers, who perhaps thought that by upping the nihilism and over-the-top nastiness in this adaptation of the 2008 novel by Scottish author John Niven they could gloss over their movie’s most glaring flaw: it has absolutely nothing new to say.
I can’t be sure that it’s any different from the source material, as I’ve not read it. the film follows Hoult’s journey through the British music industry, circa 1997, as that particular corner of the business was flush with pop success. His transition from vicious corporate ladder-climber to the titular killer of friends feels cynically amoral–the movie plays like a series of uninspired ‘why-nots.’ Hoult, the boy from “About A Boy,” quotes Conan the Barbarian as he murders and betrays anyone between him and the top job at his company.
Hoult has been on something of a mission in his mid-20s to seek out more adult roles. He clearly wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and for the most part, I’ve been pleased to see where his instincts have taken him thus far (His turn in last year’s Oscar-winning ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ was great but he was even better in the criminally underseen 2014 indie sci-fi “Young Ones.”). Here, as anti-hero Steven Stelfox, he leaves no line of coke un-snorted, no woman un-demeaned, no co-worker un-destroyed and no fourth wall unbroken. If he existed in the same cinematic universe as Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho,” they could easily create some kind of uber-douche Justice League of serial killer misanthropes who rule corporate hell (and by extension, all of us).
That’s all well and good. Hoult seems to relish the opportunity to go bad, and his performance makes “Kill Your Friends” watchable as hell, but that can’t save this film from being anything other than a B-squad “Wolf Of Wall Street.” Even HBO’s flawed but getting better new show, “Vinyl,” has more to offer. And neither the outstanding 90’s Britpop soundtrack nor the score by veteran producer Junkie XL (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Deadpool”) save it from being a lesser, rote version of the Mary Harron movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous bestseller (they got there first after all). Director Owen Harris makes his feature debut following several great episodes of the British TV series “Misfits” and one of my favorite “Black Mirror” episodes, “Be Right Back.” He does right by the material, even if it all seems hollow and uninspired while the running time, admittedly, whizzes by. I’m not faulting the film for being bad as it wants to be. It’s more that, once you’ve seen it done better so many times before (all hail Martin Scorsese!), there’s not much left to do but shrug with indifference.
(“Kill Your Friends” opens Friday, April 1, at Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver, WA.)
Rated R (for bloody violence, nudity, lots of drug use and plenty of foul language), 103 min. Grade: C