So I took some time to chill last week with my wife and new daughter but I’m back in action with a new review. I’d been hearing about this one for a while. Film Threat and Twitch have been really excited about it and the premise really works for me. Also, Twitch rarely steers me wrong. I find out about a lot of great flicks from their site and I nearly always come out of the affair happy. I must admit that I got caught up in the trailer for this movie and that sweet box art also rocks me. I’ve been waiting for a new indie action flick to come along and show me something I hadn’t seen before and this one was shaping up to be that title.
The budget is low, but that has never stopped anyone from making a good action flick. Like zombie movies, you really don’t need a lot of money to do this sort of thing. Van Bebber’s Deadbeat At Dawn comes to mind. A perfectly adequate action movie that had heart and balls. Word was that it was a mashup of genres and it is, but that doesn’t always work out in its favor. Other hype called it an action movie that plays like a horror movie and I can see that, but that doesn’t always work, either.
We begin with video footage of a young boy being interviewed by a therapist or a psychologist. The setup is suitably morbid. Young Truman Fisher was egged on to beat another boy half to death with a pool ball while the adults looked on and bet on who would win. His upbringing clearly sucks and when asked how hurting people makes him feel, his reply, “It doesn’t.”
While this footage runs, disembodied hands prep guns and other assorted weapons ala the beginning of A Nightmare On Elm Street.
This is the past. Cut to the now. Truman is an adult and running as an enforcer in some mob-type gang. Based on his career path, it’s pretty clear that his upbringing didn’t get much better. He and his bros are suiting up to pull a robbery of a good deal of coke by pretending to be undercover cops pretending to be criminals. Right off the bat, the movie commits one of my favorite crime movie cliches. The drug dealer’s pad is exactly what you have come to expect from movies such as this. The dealer sits in a sparsely furnished studio style apartment, surrounded by coke sluts and his entourage who sit around the place looking alternately bored and menacing while they play videogames projected on the wall. I often wonder who started this scene. It’s become so typical. I’d put money down that it was one of the Bad Boys movies. Truman begins to tell a crazy story while the deal is going down. It reeks heavily of Tim Roth’s amusing anecdote from Reservoir Dogs about running into cops in the men’s room while carrying a bag full of drugs. This is the first of one of the movie’s many quirks. This one tends to wear its influences on its sleeve and you notice things about it that try so hard to echo the successes of Tarantino movies, The Usual Suspects and Boondock Saints.
Naturally, everything goes wrong. Truman and his crew whip out guns and fake badges and pretend to make this some kind of bust, but everyone in the house is packing and they’re severely outnumbered. Gun fight ensues. This scene marks the beginning of a series of anachronisms that I at first chalked up to having very little budget for gun props, but strange, out of place items make appearances throughout the movie. Both Truman’s gang and the dealer’s gang are packing old weapons. There are modern pistols present, but also present are submachine guns straight out of World War 2. One of Truman’s guys packs a Thompson sub (Tommy Gun), minus the drum clip familiar to film noir style gangsters. While everyone yells and points guns at one another, a masked man slips into the apartment and kicks off the violence by shooting everyone. Though, my opinion of the movie lands a little on the negative side, it has it’s moments and this gunfight is one of them. It doesn’t try and go the John Woo route even though it looks like it badly wanted to, nor does it dip into Matrix territory, though the production design really brings that movie to mind. The masked killer whittles the room down to one survivor, Truman, and the two of them throw down with guns, knives and fists, until Truman appears to win by drowning the killer. He manages to escape before the cops show and it looks like the end of it until a few days later when he’s back on the job.
Truman’s boss, a cliche, wildly gesturing, loudmouthed mobster plays a video tape (another anachronism) of a masked killer busting up his nephew’s steez, killing just about everyone and making off with his nephew. There’s also a cryptic note left by the killer that is a piece of the puzzle revealed later on. Truman and his buddy Pat are charged with tracking down this killer and either getting the mobster’s nephew back or getting revenge. The search for the nephew weaves through more outrageous mobster cliches such as a soft spoken old timer who plays chess with himself as well as a tech-savvy eye in the sky type who deals information based on stuff she tracks down on the internet. Everyone seems to live in apartments decorated with mannequin parts and christmas lights hung from every fixture.
As the movie unfolds, it turns out that the masked killer goes by the name Claude Rains, better known as the actor to protray the Invisible Man in the 1933 James Whale production. To the criminal underground, he’s an assassin whose name strikes fear on the level of Keyser Soze, this frightening contract killer without a name. He can infiltrate anywhere and kill you dead before you know it.
The horror angle unfolds as the movie progresses. In slasher movie fashion, bodies appear in elaborately staged scenes for Truman to discover, throats cut, shot dead, whatever. As it turns out, Truman was chosen by Rains, based on that video in the beginning to be his successor. The point is for Rains to die and Truman to pick up the slack and become the new Claude Rains. Unfortunately, this is where the movie begins to unravel. It shows promise in so many places and has some great ideas about how an independent action/crime movie can be, but it’s dogged by strange motivations and really bad acting. I’m talking Troll 2 bad in places. There are psychopaths all over the world who would jump at the chance to capitalize on their ability to raise hell but Rains chooses Truman based on a video that would suggest that he’s desensitized to violence. However, adult Truman, tracked by the phantom killer, shows remorse and emotion everywhere in the movie. He doesn’t seem to be the person Rains is looking for. The boy at the beginning was, but the man he is now is not. It also could have been trimmed by a good thirty minutes. It spends a lot of time wading slowly through character moments that go nowhere. Truman’s girlfriend, who is the promise of breaking out of crime and moving away to a better life winds up little more than a device to move us into the third act. The revelation of Rains’ identity almost seems to come secondary to all this character building. He spends a lot of time hiding in the shadows and when it comes time to tear the mask off, his identity doesn’t really matter. However, the scenes leading up to his reveal are quite good and very tense.
I can’t shit on it too much because for all the shoddy dialog, hammy acting and weird plotting, it tries so hard and manages to be great in places. Director, William Kauffman, was going for the gold. He wanted this so badly to be an indie flick on the level with Boondock Saints but through it all I felt like I was watching local theater production snippets from Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, Saw and sometimes even The Crow. For all its flaws, though, it succeeds on many levels. The action scenes are brutal and well directed. It never tries to be more than it can be. When they’re throwing fists, it looks like the men involved have some fighting experience and it delivers a convincing action scene. The intended horror elements seem to come out of nowhere, though. They’re gruesome, to be certain. The fate of Truman’s boss’ nephew is nasty as hell. Unfortunately, they stick out like a sore thumb. The elaborate slasher style setups seem to go against everything Claude Rains is known for. He’s brutal, he’s fast and efficient. Many times it looks like he spent a great deal of time setting the stage for Truman to find the bodies.
So I was a little let down. A movie with a great premise, it’s definitely worth a look, but this review is a counter-agent to all the indie scene hype I’ve been hearing about this movie. It does quite well as an action movie but runs a little long, distracts you with a lot of needless plotting and is populated with awful mobster overacting.