Kills on Wheels

Studio: Kino Lorber

Feb 07, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Atilla Till’s Kills on Wheels has an immediate hook that could go horribly wrong if executed without some semblance of grace and authenticity. It follows Zolika (Zoltan Fenyvesi), a young man who has been in a wheelchair his entire life, who collaborates with his best friend Barba (Adam Fekete) in creating comics depicting their lives with disabilities. Barba can walk, unlike Zolika, but he struggles with motor functions. Zolika is defiant toward his mother, and doesn’t want to ask his estranged father for money going toward a lifesaving surgery.

They come into contact with Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuroczy), a former fire fighter who is paralyzed from the waist down, and is now the most unsuspecting hitman imaginable. A mob boss hires Rupaszov to take down his enemies precisely because they’ll immediately underestimate him. Through either frustration with his station in life, boredom, or both, Zolika – with Barba in tow – help Rupaszov on the job.

This is a pulpy, violent, crime movie that has its fair share of laughs alongside the inherent drama associated with Zolika’s situation. It’s a ridiculous premise, but it simultaneously recognizes its silliness while also playing it relatively straight. Despite the cheeky name, the film doesn’t treat its protagonists as sideshows or gimmicks, which is likely why the film succeeds in being compelling. It helps that both Zolika and Barba are played by (first-time) actors who are disabled, and that the film depicts many types of disability, showing these lives with depth and care.

One of the key elements explored in the film is movement. There is an intense focus on how people move, both in terms of those who must use assistance in wheelchairs and those who can walk freely. This is pronounced in a sequence after the first hit, when the mob boss is walking his four Rottweilers and he gets ambushed. The mobster gets shot, and so does one of his dogs, and everything slows as he adjusts and retaliates.

Likewise, Zolika’s movements are shown as multifaceted. He’s lived his whole life with this reality, and so he’s clearly gotten used to it, and developed methods that work for him to move around with seeming ease. That’s not to say his life is without struggle, but that he manages. Through Zolika’s experience, the movie rises above any kind of nauseating exploitation. His disability doesn’t define him, but it is a clear element of his day-to-day. For a bloody genre movie, they manage the tightrope well, and it never feels like these characters are the butt of some joke, but they’re also not depicted as superhuman. While Zolika has dealt with his disability since day one, Rupaszov is constantly struggling – not just with his physical limitations, but with the desire to once again walk. He’s determined to “fix” himself. This is explored more explicitly in his relationship with his ex-girlfriend who is getting married to a different man.

Kills on Wheels is not perfect, especially as the movie coalesces with its slight twist near the end, which may be emotionally satisfying while still feeling like a bit of a cop-out. Additionally, there is a plot device that acts as the pivot the film’s climax hinges on and it doesn’t feel appropriately developed. While the mob boss is unsurprisingly ruthless, he follows a decision-making path that comes off as forced and poorly defined. It could work, but the motivations are foggy at best, and that takes it down a peg.

That, and Rupaszov’s subplot with his ex-girlfriend seems exactly the type of expected path a story of this ilk would take. He’s surly about his paralysis, and continues chasing her, eventually leading to a confrontation with her husband-to-be. It’s all in the name of adding layers to the drama and bridging an understanding between the two leads, but it also stalls momentum. If these sequences were given a little more room to breathe, and his ex-girlfriend was actually given a character beyond that description, maybe it would have achieved it.

The disc itself is not worth the effort. There is a hastily thrown-together feature labeled as a making-of documentary, and that is a very generous description. It’s about six-minutes long and features all-too-brief interviews with the principal cast and writer-director Till. It’s barely more than superficial, and is far too fleeting. The interviews with Fenyvesi and Fekete offer a little insight into who they are and how they relate their own lives to the characters they’re playing, but it’s too fleeting to offer any real, significant insight. It’s a missed opportunity, especially since a trailer and a few deleted scenes are all that’s left afterwards.

Kills on Wheels is a refreshing movie, though, and it intertwines the comic art Zolika and Barba create overtop the live images to indicate what parts of their lives they’re incorporating into their own narrative (though, the ending does kind of change what this means). It’s a film about representation without ever coming off as phony or forced.


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