Film Review: Kills on Wheels

Director Attila Till subverts expectations with a dark crime comedy more about its characters’ inner lives than blood and body counts.
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Unlike any other film you’ll see this year, Panic director Attila Till’s sophomore feature Kills on Wheels introduces audiences to a band of wheelchair-bound assassins who roll around their Hungarian town taking out criminals. If that description conjures up a certain mental image—something fun, high-energy and goofy—know that that’s not what Kills on Wheels is. What Till has instead crafted is an audacious, bold bit of filmmaking that subverts expectations—mostly for better, sometimes for worse—at every turn.

Best friends Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba Papa (Ádám Fekete), both differently abled, live in a rehab facility in Budapest, where their energy is channeled into…nothing much at all, really. It’s a quiet, idle place, one more fit for the extremely elderly waiting for death than a pair of high-spirited twenty-somethings who happen to be in wheelchairs. They go nowhere and do nothing; Barba Papa has a car, but he hasn’t filled it with gas in three months.

The duo’s routine is changed when they meet Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), an ex-firefighter left paralyzed from the waist down by a workplace accident. Unlike Zolita and Barba Papa, Rupaszov is determined not to be wheelchair-bound. But he is for now, and hey, he needs to work. It turns out being in a wheelchair makes one an excellent assassin, as it means neither victims nor the police will really take one seriously as a threat. Rupaszov befriends Zolika and Barba Papa and takes them on as helpers, which in turn gets the three of them on the bad side of local crime kingpin Rados (Dusán Vitanovics).

Typical crime-movie trappings follow—attempted murders, double-crosses, one dead dog and the odd bit of murder-themed dark comedy. However, Kills on Wheels is less about these things than about the relationship between Zolika, Barba Papa and Rupaszov and how the trio challenge one another to live lives fuller than those they’re “supposed,” as members of the differently abled community, to be content with. The pacing is a bit stop-and-go, and those looking for a rip-roaring good time are bound to be disappointed by what proves to be a sentimental interpersonal drama concealed within an action-comedy veneer. Still, in portraying the internal struggles of its characters—their loneliness, the prejudices they face, Zolika’s growing determination to grab ahold of his own fate, Rupaszov’s struggle to accept that a woman could love him following his injury—Kills on Wheels is quite adept.

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