“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” made Noomi Rapace one of the unlikeliest action heroines the screen has ever produced. She’s tiny –5’4″ — and when she cinches up a belt around her puffy polar jacket in her latest action thriller, “Black Crab,” she shrinks even more.
But there’s no questioning her fight scene/firefight/f-up-the-bad-guys bonafides at this stage. It’s impossible to pick just one film where we totally buy into this diminutive dynamo kicking ass and emptying clips.
“Black Crab” is a standard-issue “suicide mission” combat team picture. Call it “Guns of Navarone” on skates or “The Dirty Swedish Half Dozen,” this Adam Berg thriller, based on a Jerker (Stop LAUGHing) Virdborg novel hews to the traditions and tropes of the genre and is only really surprising in how they botch the anticlimactic ending.
There’s talk on the radio of a “civil war,” which mother Caroline Edh (Rapace) tries to distract her tween daughter Vanja (Stella Marcimain Klintberg) from as they drive out of the city.
But the war is upon them in a flash as they’re stopped, the kid is spirited away and Mom is abducted and stuffed back into camo.
Some time later, whatever is going on has devastated Sweden with “The North” gaining the upper hand in whatever pan-Scandinavian conflict (Instigated by Russia?) has turned Ole against Olaf.
Edh is summoned to meet a fatalistic commander (David Dencik), who mutters a poem about this “time without mercy” (in Swedish with subtitles, or dubbed) as he addresses this team he’s assembled. “The war is lost” unless these folks can get these cannisters to a lab behind enemy lines.
Bombs? Computer viruses? Biological ones? Nobody’s told. All of them (Jakob Oftebro, Dar Salim, Ardalan Esmaili, Aliette Opheim, Erik Enge) have been selected for their soldiering skills, and their relationship to Sweden’s winter pastime. They can all skate.
With the “archipelago” thinly iced over, they can skate over 100 kilometers, island-hopping as they do, and make their delivery to a military facility and “save the day.”
As we’ve seen the mass hangings, the trigger-happiness of the conscripts and their pitiless way of dismissing the starving refugees that this conflict has created, we’re allowed to wonder if “the good guys” here might be anybody worth fighting for. Carolina Edh bristles at the mission until she’s told where her daughter is. Do this and you can see her again.
The film’s obstacles include the usual power struggles within the group, a chain of command that includes people who can skate but know nothing of the terrain, close contact with the enemy, etc.
There are falls through the ice, helicopter gunships tracking them through the dark and snowsuit-clad warriors from “the North” dogging their every step or glide on those long distance track-race skates.
Music video and commercial director Berg stages decent firefights for our warriors on their quest in his debut feature. And the production design team creates a convincing snowy apocalypse for them to pass through, from frozen ferries and ice-entombed victims of the war to the Bond film finale where the film’s climax and anti-climax are set.
The soldiers are an unglamorous lot, with no hint of the swagger Hollywood bestows on such commandos. They’ve bought into the propaganda, some let their personal concerns trump their mission and all develop a sort of instant mistrust that seems right for a group of strangers in an endless conflict hurled into a job that all but ends their chances of getting out of this war alive.
But “Black Crab” — the name of their mission, its password and a description of what they’re doing, sidestepping the lines to get to their destination — seriously missteps when it throws in a drawn-out epilogue when a tidier film would have covered the same ground with the same results at the end of the quest narrative.
The anti-climax is an afterthought and it doesn’t play worth a damn.
Noomi is good, the supporting “types” perfectly serviceable, the look — that killer image of combat team skating into the darkness from their base as it is being bombed to bits — arresting. But that ending? It’s a bust.
Rating: TV-MA, violence and lots of it
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Jakob Oftebro, Dar Salim, Ardalan Esmaili, Aliette Opheim, Erik Enge and David Dencik
Credits: Directed by Adam Berg, scripted by Adam Berg and Pelle Rådström, based on a novel by Jerker Virdborg. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:54