Netflixable? “How I Fell in Love with a Gangster” gives a Polish twist to the Mob Boss Saga

“How I Fell in Love with a Gangster” is a Polish “Blow,” “Mesrine” and “American Gangster,” all rolled into one — a mini-series or at least Scorsese-length picture about Poland’s “most renowned criminal of all time.”

Nikodem “Nikoś” Skotarczak had a career that took him from mastering grand theft-auto to cocaine smuggling, from the disco-era ’70s to Eurovision 1998. He became a folk hero for taking over a losing Gdansk soccer team and spending it to victory, for escaping from the cops — German and Polish — time and again.

Maybe now that this long, lurid and soapy saga has come to Netflix, he’ll merit a Wikipedia page of his very own.

Does Nikos’ life and career justify a three-hour-plus saga-length treatment? As a non-Pole, I have to say “nie bardzo.”

Director Maciej Kawulski and his co-screenwriter Krzysztof Gureczny serve up scene after scene that outstays its welcome, many of them not quite pointless, but hard to justify in the context of a movie that begs for pace or something beyond the barest hint of a pulse.

There’s violence, but not a staggering amount of it. There’s a lone car chase, and it’s abbreviated. Considering all the sequences that go on forever, that’s hard to justify.

It claims to be about “How I Fell in Love with a Gangster,” but is almost exclusively about Nikos, from childhood to death, his “Tri City Boys” gang, and not about the legions of women who enrolled in his lifestyle, some for brief stretches, others for longer ones. All we’re meant to gather is that he was great in bed, or on SUV hoods or wherever. We learn so little about the women that they’re mere fashion accessories, not accessories after the fact. One dug his access to cocaine, but the rest gave him children and endured his cheating and give us little notion of being in it for the money or anything else.

Chief among them is our mysterious narrator (Krystyna Janda), interviewed by a Polish journalist or would-be biographer, a woman who serves as our guide to Nikos’ life, who seems to have known every other woman he ever bedded and can’t really explain “How I Fell in Love with a Gangster.”

Tomasz Wlosok plays Nikos from his 20s — when he was a rugby player by day, bar bouncer by night, part of a whole gang who “ran the city” — to his death. It’s a charismatic enough performance, but only a handful of the endless succession of scenes really register, the “red letter dates” in the mobster-in-the-making’s history.

He went to Hungary and became “king of Budapest” thanks to the ease with which even European cars were stealable and easily resold in the last years of the Iron Curtain. He talks his way out of gunpoint confrontations, and we learn that “windows played an important role in Nikos’ life” — he was always jumping out of them to escape a jam. He and a minion worked out how to get past the ignition locks that threatened to kill their business in the late ’70s, and an Italian lieutenant is the one who gets him interested in moving cocaine.

There’s also a somewhat clever, somewhat funny (not funny enough) German prison break.

But if we know anything about our mob sagas, it’s that the coke trafficker who grows fond of his product isn’t long for this world, as that’s a signal that the story arc — abused child to thug to mobster to “boss” to arrests, decline and a final “hit” — is complete.

Two of his women stand out in the screenario. Agnieszka Grochowska makes the one he never quite gets over, “Jet,” a sex worker turned turned concubine, memorable and romantic. Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz plays the uninhibited Nikita, his last, with a trashy verve.

The “tragedies” of Nikos’ life — a wife’s suicide, a car accident that kills much of his family — aren’t written, edited or played (off-camera) in any way that manages to be moving.

The film makes decent use of an array of (perhaps faked) locations, and generations of stealable VW’s and Mercedes.

But the dialogue — in Polish with English subtitles, or dubbed — is generic in the extreme. “I will be the king of this city, like a tiger!”

Wlosok has few moments to really let it all out — one, when he’s berating a German cop (Klaudiusz Kaufmann) about Polish pronunciations, screaming at him to repeat “Your papa’s proper bread has no jam!” over and over.

Despite his best efforts, I pretty much lost patience with this at about the dawdling one hour mark.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Tomasz Wlosok, Antoni Królikowski, Agnieszka Grochowska, Magdalena Lamparska and
Krystyna Janda

Credits: Directed by Maciej Kawulski, scripted by Maciej Kawulski, Krzysztof Gureczny. A Netflix release.

Running time: 3:06

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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