Yesterday, Monday March 11, saw the low-key release of the trailer for Crypto, a crime thriller starring Beau Knapp and featuring Kurt Russell (a.k.a. Snake Plissken) and Luke Hemsworth (a.k.a. Thor’s older brother). The trailer suggests it’s a brazenly unambitious popcorn flick, following in the footsteps of a thousand other variations on “guy investigates thing and winds up way too deep,” but with a (very) light dusting of cryptocurrency intrigue.
Despite its Hollywood-perfect affiliations with excess, crime, and conspiracy, cryptocurrency has managed to show up in surprisingly few high-profile movies so far. Obviously, crypto supporters would love for a movie to showcase its positive real-world promise—its ability to give more power to political dissidents and protect the livelihoods of people trapped in troubled monetary systems. But even a decent film focused on the dark side of crypto could do positive work to raise awareness: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes.
Unfortunately, Crypto doesn’t seem likely to be the movie to do even that, based on what we’ve seen so far. Here’s a quick rundown of where it’s cued to go wrong, along with the film’s strange connection to a real-world crypto scam—and one genuinely promising point.
Russians and Money Laundering and Guns, Oh My!
The obvious knock on Crypto is that the trailer shows absolutely no creative use being made of cryptocurrency as a plot device, and an overall extremely generic thriller premise. A bank officer played by Beau Knapp is sent to his hometown to investigate . . . something fishy? We first see him digging into something called “Delta Coin,” which (unsurprisingly) shares its name with a real crypto also known as Agrello. Then there are Russians, and guns, and a computer with file folders literally labeled “Bitcoin payouts” and “Kickbacks.”
It’s all pretty well summed up in the film’s apparent tagline: “Fear is the Ultimate Currency.” In short, the “crypto” here seems entirely incidental to whatever the disposable plot is, though we’re definitely crossing our fingers for an explanation of Byzantine Fault Tolerance to pop up somewhere (no, actually, we’re not).
The Bank Officer as Action Hero
You read that right: The film’s protagonist is a bank officer, specifically an anti-money laundering investigator. It’s actually a promising idea, given the global plague of money laundering by criminal organizations through conventional banks—in this case, a small regional branch, roughly paralleling the role of a remote Estonian branch in last year’s DanskeBank revelations.
But an actual good film based on that premise would likely have to be a meticulous, brainy procedural. Crypto gives little sense that it understands the weighty complexity of financial crime, with the trailer instead leaning very heavily on rote fisticuffs and gunplay—exactly the sort of stuff real money launderers are out to avoid.
To fit that mold, the trailer makes some amusing stabs at turning its heroic bank inspector into someone effective and mysterious enough to take on the Russian mob. Knapp’s character is described as a “first round draft pick on Wall Street,” which, is that a thing people say? If so, ugh.
Even funnier, co-star Alexis Bledel (also of The Handmaid’s Tale) says of Knapp’s character: “You must know all kinds of things, back there behind the curtain,” as we’re shown footage of Knapp standing in . . . a room full of cardboard document boxes. Truly, a man with dark secrets.
I Don’t See Kurt Russell With a Gun
This one’s the real dealbreaker: It seems Kurt Russell, despite his top billing, is little more than a McGuffin here. He plays the main character’s seemingly mild-mannered farmer dad, whose kidnapping by the villains kicks that action into high gear. At least in the trailer, he hefts nothing more dangerous than a pitchfork, and spends most of his screen time looking confused.
Let me be clear (Obama voice): THIS IS AN UNACCEPTABLE WAY TO USE KURT RUSSELL IN A FILM. Yes, the star of Escape From New York, The Thing, and Tombstone is 67, but I don’t care if Snake Plissken is 95 and living in Iowa: He’s still going to find a way to turn a tractor into a bomb, then sneer dourly as he steers it into the bad guys’ hideout.
They Put Inaudible Lines in the Trailer
This one might seem a little petty, but it’s a fundamental red flag. At around 1:35 in the trailer, Alexis Bledel’s character (“Katie”) tells Beau Knapp’s character (“Martin”) “I warned you.” He responds: “Nobody can be prepared for whatever outlet.” Or that’s the closest I could get the first five times I watched it. Eventually I realized he’s saying “Nobody can be prepared for whatever that was.” I think.
It seems reasonable to guess that a movie that can’t put comprehensible dialogue in the trailer is not headed down a path to greatness.
Beau Knapp Is Pretty Great
There are some easy knocks against Crypto, but the movie also has a not-so-secret weapon. Despite getting second billing to bigger names, Knapp is the movie’s actual lead, and he’s real good, with an energy that teeters between threatening and panicked—just about perfect for the nominal subject matter. He was both menacing and fragile as the degenerate boyfriend of Nicole Kidman’s rogue daughter in (the totally awesome) Destroyer, and he seems poised to become a bigger name. But it seems unlikely this weak tea will be what gets him there.
The Director Has a Tangential Crypto-Scam Connection—through Steven Seagal
Setting aside its hypothetical strengths and weaknesses, Crypto also features one straight-up bizarre alignment of the stars. Director John Stalberg Jr. has a short resume, with exactly one other high-profile film credit, according to IMDB: 1996’s Executive Decision, on which he’s listed as a production assistant. That Presidential action flick, as all aficionados of fine film certainly know, also featured Kurt Russell, along with the always-relevant Steven Seagal.
Seagal, of course, is not just an actor, but also the former promoter of a bizarre, overtly scammy crypto project called Bitcoiin 2nd Generation (yes, two iis). You can pretty much guess the details from that deceptive name: The coin was hit with regulatory warnings just weeks after it entered the public eye. Then the entire anonymous team, along with Seagal, reportedly left the project as soon as its ICO finished, with the wildly illogical justification that this would make the coin “open source.” More details about the alleged swindle were published by CCN.
All of this happened, of course, decades after whatever minor interaction Stalberg might have had with Seagal. But hey, crazy coincidence, right?
Crypto is set to hit theaters on April 12. Let’s hope for the best and brace for the worst.