I heard so much trash talked about Gina Carano vehicle #2, IN THE BLOOD, that I was scared off from watching it on VOD. And it’s true that there’s plenty wrong with it, especially as a followup to Steve Soderbergh’s HAYWIRE.
#1 problem for alot of people: director John Stockwell (UNDER COVER, BLUE CRUSH) isn’t as meticulous about massaging a performance out of veteran fighter, recent actor Carano as Soderbergh was, so there are some pretty stiff line readings. In one scene she even says she’s from “Cuh-NECK-ticut,” not a regionally accurate pronunciation in my opinion. But as a fan of Dennis Rodman, Brian Bosworth, early Van Damme, Daniel Bernhardt, Gary Daniels, Olivier Gruner, early Dolph, etc. this is not a problem to me at all, and seems like kind of a complaint for action movie lightweights.
The main complaint for people of our ilk, that will go unnoticed by normal people, is that the fights are short and over-edited. The hits feel hard, the camera’s not that shaky and most of the framing is okay, but it’s another one hit = one cut movie. Why directors don’t think it’s worth the effort to stage a bunch of moves – or shit, at least two moves – in a row is beyond me, especially since Stockwell is on the public record as having seen and enjoyed HAYWIRE. He seems to take some influence in how to portray Carano as a scary asskicker (even re-using the gag where she calls her betrayer on the guy she just killed’s phone), but little in the clean-as-a-whistle action filmatism that is HAYWIRE’s bread and butter.
Still, I enjoyed IN THE BLOOD. It’s a pretty well put together rehash of a standard tough guy type of plot – guy goes on honeymoon in a foreign country, his wife disappears, he has to solve the mystery of what happened and beat up or kill everybody who gets in his way – except the genders are swapped. And that’s novel enough to raise it above others of its type.
Carano plays Ava a gal of unspecified occupation I believe but with a horrible past, trained to fight and kill by her reprobate father (AVATAR‘s Stephen Lang in flashbacks with different actress Paloma Louvat). Now she’s straightened her life out and she’s marrying a fellow ex-junkie (Cam Gigandet) from a rich family. It’s a storybook rich person wedding thanks to disapproving father Treat Williams (THE SUBSTITUTE 2-3), then they go for a beautiful honeymoon on a resort island off of Puerto Rico, the perfect spot for smiley, cuddly montages on beaches, in helicopters, at outdoor bars, on ziplines. But then the husband disappears and she has to find out what happened so she can rescue and/or avenge him.
She’s actually kinda like a Seagal character. She makes no apologies for going overboard in her violence. Her dark past is abuse/criminal instead of black ops, but she has a similar Terminator quality, she never loses a fight, never seems in danger of losing. She beats people with bats, chokes, shoots, strips, hog ties, tortures for information. She threateningly recites factoids about which organs are stabbable and what will happen afterwards. She storms into places and threatens people (best one: guy at zipline place who she drags onto the line front of two tourists). Even before the real trouble starts, when Danny Trejo (MARKED FOR DEATH, URBAN JUSTICE, MACHETE, FORCE OF EXECUTION) tries to start a fight with her husband on a dance floor, she’s immediately throwing bottles at heads and crushing glasses in faces. (That’s the best fight, despite the strobelight.)
She’s not as indestructible as Seagal, she does get injured, but the one that shows the most is from dislocating her own thumb to get out of handcuffs. At one point she does get shot in the back, but doesn’t even notice until her husband points it out after a car chase. “You’ve been shot, right?”
“What?” she says, sounding more annoyed than worried.
I really enjoy seeing a woman do this type of stuff, especially a woman with some badass credibility. I’m willing to suspend the ol’ disbelief for a petite stickbug of an actress who looks more like a model than a scrapper, but it’s more fun to see one of these starring a lady with some woman on her, some hips to toss people over, some arms to wrap around windpipes. It’s not just better for fights but also for a well staged scene like the one where a not-quite-innocent hospital employee is pulling into the gate and doesn’t notice Carano’s angry face swimming up like Jaws in the rear-view.
I don’t think this was intentional, but I noticed the high-def photography picked up some bruises on her skin under her pretty wedding dress. ‘Cause she’s legit.
Equally important: Gigandet gets the damsel in distress role. He’s mostly prone and helpless, led to safety if not literally carried. He’s given a gun and contributes one ambush stomping of an underling, just like a kidnapped wife or daughter character would do. I also like the meta-ness of real life mixed martial artist Carano having to rescue an actor who pretended to be one in NEVER BACK DOWN.
To be fair, the bad guy (Amaury Nolasco from 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) does seem to consider both of them a threat when he declares “You two motherfuckers are crazy!” before giving up and jumping out of their moving vehicle.
Also, I should point out that there is a part where she gets emotional and cries and shit. It’s like I said in my review of Zoe Bell in RAZE, I’m torn between whether it’s unfair that female action characters usually have to do that scene and men don’t, or if it gives her more depth. This is a traditional badass revenge story where it’s not needed, the emotion can all be internal. But she does do well with the scene, it deals with her feelings about being an ex-addict, and helps her develop a sweet friendship with Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), a local who not only shows her around but also gives her a pep talk.
The script is by James Robert Johnson (JOY RIDE 2, THE HOWLING: REBORN) and Bennett Yellin (DUMB & DUMBER). I’m sure most people wouldn’t consider it a good script, but I think it’s a solid version of a formula with some nice flair here and there. For example I like the corny turn at the end where street kids form a mob to help her escape, like a good guy version of the HOSTEL kids, or like human Ewoks. Also, Trejo initially seems to be a worthless cameo but then gets a hell of a last scene. He saves the day, but not by being heroic.
If you’re wondering, Luis Guzman actually has a major part as the not-necessarily-trustworthy police chief Carano keeps hassling about her missing husband.
Director Stockwell did a horror movie about 8 years ago called TURISTAS, which has alot of similarities to this one. Both have naturalistic digital video depicting American tourists in over their heads when their tropical vacations in a country where they don’t speak the language run into black market medical nightmares. In fact, that one kind of helps this one tell its story because it sets you up to be extra suspicious when a seemingly friendly local approaches them at a beach front bar.
I couldn’t finish the last Stockwell action movie I rented, CAT RUN (part 2 coming soon), so IN THE BLOOD restores my image of him as an above average journeyman type. He peppers the movie with unexpectedly interesting, maybe improvisational details, especially in the last chunk where they end up hiding in an impoverished neighborhood while the bad guy storms into houses waving guns and bills and haranguing people about where “the gringos” are. The extras seem like they gotta be locals and the locations (in Puerto Rico I believe) have alot of character. I like the kids dancing to music blasting from a truck, the family blankly watching TV and barely acknowledging the invading gunmen, the lady putting down her mini-Bible to watch out the window after she hears Carano slam somebody against the corrugated metal siding of her home.
So, you know, this has some of the problems we all hate from modern action, but in my opinion it’s more fun than your average DTV/VOD business. I’ll take some more of these please.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.