The offbeat Hungarian thriller Kills on Wheels (Hungary, 2016) turns a dark subject into an unexpected crime tale of triumph and hope with a streak of black comedy.
Zoli and Barba are disabled teenagers in a rehabilitation facility where they meet Janos (Szabolcs Thuróczy), a former fireman now paralyzed from the waist down. Gruff and cynical, Janos has become a hitman for a gangster and drafts the two boys into his latest job, a one-time gig that turns into the beginning of a successful partnership and an unexpected friendship. He’s the muscle and the trigger man, they help with logistics, planning, and distraction, at least until the gangster discovers their participation and orders Janos to get rid of them.
Thuróczy is an able-bodied acting veteran and he invests the part with a complicated storm of impulses and emotions while also showing a human side to the misanthropic thug. The boys, however, are played by actual handicapped actors making their respective film debuts and they are very effective in the roles, especially Zoltán Fenyvesi as Zoli, an aspiring comic book artist who nurses a grudge against the father who abandoned him.
The film leans into the culture of comic books as the teens turn their story into a graphic novel and writer/director Attila Till uses artwork and comic book panels for transitions and punctuation. Some of the elaborate assassinations stretch plausibility but it ultimately works, thanks to the way Till reframes the story in the final scenes of the film, and in its own way it is an uplifting portrait of the physically disabled defying expectations and limitations through ambition and creativity.
Not rated, features explicit violence, sexuality, and foul language.
In Hungarian with English subtitles.
The DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber features deleted scenes and five brief promotional featurettes with cast and filmmaker interviews.