You and I, obviously we rented RIOT because Dolph Lundgren is on the cover. But we will quickly learn that this is a Matthew Reese Films presentation starring Matthew Reese as Jack Stone.
As you could guess from his name, Jack Stone was an amazingly awesome and legendary cop before a bank robbery and killing of a fellow officer (seen in fragmented flashbacks) put him behind bars. The guards (who wear full body armor and goalie masks) taunt him and the inmates threaten him, except for one tall shy guy with a mop. That’s William, played by Dolph. He hunches over, winces, mumbles, acts scared. But he immediately looks out for Jack. If Jack gets jumped he’ll leap in and beat up a guy with a mop handle if necessary.
Actually there’s one other guy who likes Jack, in a part I didn’t understand. When Jack’s cellmate (ex-football player Seante Williams) first finds him in the cell he starts threatening him, but then recognizes him and smiles. “Jack, right?” He introduces himself as Silva and gives him his choice of top or bottom bunk! Toward the end of the movie a giant muscular blond, like a new model of Dolph, who has been set up as a major threat, comes to kill Jack, and Silva flies in with a Superman punch and takes care of the guy for him.
I don’t know, maybe Silva’s supposed to be some undercover guy planted there to help him? Might as well be, it seems like everybody else in here is. Jack purposely pleaded guilty to get into the prison where his wife’s killer is. William, we find out, is an FBI agent who has been inside for 6 months to look into corruption at the prison (talk about a shitty gig!) and he also has a partner in there who is also undercover.
This prison has both men and women. I mean, they keep them separated, but they’re in the same building. Seems like it could be trouble, especially considering the vents they have that are so big you hardly even have to crawl when you sneak into them and use them as tunnels to go all around the prison undetected.
You get many of the standard prison situations and fights. I like their version of the “connected inmate tells newbie to pay protection money and he stands up for himself” scene. It’s this weinery Russian with some henchmen. We first see him do it to some guy who scoffs at him and gets made an example of. The victim’s friend is so scared he immediately gives in and follows orders to clean up the mess.
Then the Russian walks over to Jack’s table to repeat the routine. “My name i–” but Jack grabs him and beats up him and his crew. Didn’t those guys know who they were dealing with? That’s Jack Stone!
There’s a subplot about this woman inmate named Alena (Danielle Chuchran), who gets in a fight with a mean Russian woman and immediately steals the movie. They have a great scuffle, flipping and slamming each other all over the place, a couple of tough little savages. I assumed Chuchran was a stunt woman or something, but no, just an actress in wholesome family fare. She was Mary in an update of Little House On the Prairie, and she was in the CAT IN THE HAT movie. As Thing 1. That’s a big role. Not even Thing 2! Thing 2 is important as backup in case Thing 1 is ever unable to perform its sacred duties. But Thing 1, that’s a fuckin role right there.
Anyway, Alena’s obviously up to something, she’s sneaking around, she takes a pill that makes her puke blood onto her bully in order to get to the infirmary and then escape, and she meets up with William. So they’re in this together.
They get into the security room to guide Jack as he, disguised as a guard, tries to get to his wife’s killer and ruler of the prison, Balam (UFC legend Chuck Liddell). He’s a Russian gangster who says he chooses to live in the prison for protection. His cell is basically a nice apartment with a laptop, a wall of monitors, grapes, a pitcher of water. He has his own bodyguard and wears a suit and tie.
In the process they open up all the cells, starting a huge co-ed prison riot. I felt stupid that I didn’t figure out that a prison movie called RIOT was gonna center around a major prison riot. But this is a big, ambitious action sequence and the clear highlight of the movie. None of that realistic shit – it’s people doing flying drop kicks, picking up guys and flipping them, kicking guys against walls. There’s a long shot of Jack going down a hall taking out a bunch of guys in a row. Alena has a great fight in the kitchen, with knives involved and jumping nimbly across counters and sinks, slamming her enemy’s head five times inside a cupboard door. At one point Jack gets attacked by a woman, but she’s really small so he just picks her up and slams her. Silva picks up a guy and smashes him against the ceiling and it cracks (nice digital embellishment, I believe). Dolph single-handedly takes on a bunch of guards with shields and believably defeats them.
Burly, mohawked Liddell makes his generic villain pretty fun, running through the mayhem yelling “STOOOOOONNNNNE!” and ranting in his fake Russian accent. Like in his real fights he comes at Jack like a tank, kinda stiff but gets him on the ground and starts pounding down on him with fists like cinder blocks.
I’m not sure I believe Reese escaping that punishment, but he’s a legit action guy and does better than others have in the “guy you’ve never heard of who is actually the star even though you rented it for Dolph Lundgren” slot. (For example, whoever it was in AMBUSHED. I don’t think I finished that one.)
Stylistically RIOT is a little stiff, not very slick, but kind of in a good way. There’s not a bunch of random camera moves and Avid farts and shit, they are confident in just using the camera in a traditional and professional manner that depicts the story and shows off what all the stunt people are doing. The one gimmick, which is kind of subtle, is the way they do the digital gun stuff. It’s not just muzzle flashes, I swear sometimes you can glimpse the trajectory of the bullets! It’s weird but I thought it was cool.
Prison intrigue movies are now one of the traditional subgenres of DTV action. They star an actor who was popular in the ’90s with a more recent wrestler or MMA fighter. There’s one called VENDETTA that I’ll be watching soon where it’s Dean Cain as a cop going into prison to avenge The Big Show for killing his wife. And there’s MAXIMUM CONVICTION where it’s Seagal and Stone Cold Steve Austin working together in a military prison.
RIOT seems to come out of an independent film scene in Salt Lake City, Utah, where it was filmed. Chuchran got her start in films made for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints visitor center. Reese starred in the Utah-shot BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: A LATTER-DAY TALE, described by IMDb as “A modern Christian-themed retelling of the classic fairy tale.” One of director John Lyde’s many works is the standup film LATTER-DAY BISCUIT starring comedian Johnny Biscuit. “Mormon comedy gets a taste of the Biscuit!” But the only religion in RIOT is when William starts quoting the Bible at the warden, whose Christian tendencies turn out to be fake. “The Bible came with the office.”
Lyde has done a ton of movies, including fantasy ones with names like SAGA: CURSE OF THE SHADOW and MYTHICA: THE IRON CROWN, but the only one I’d heard of was OSOMBIE, the one about zombie Osama bin Laden.
I’d say this is not as good as you’d hope for from a Dolph Lundgren/Chuck Liddell picture, but better than you would expect from makers of Mormon entertainment branching out into secular action. If you get bored with it at least fast forward to the riot.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.