I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Acts of Vengeance

Instead of thinking of ACTS OF VENGEANCE as the new one from DTV action master Isaac Florentine, I recommend viwing it as the new Antonio Banderas, and oh shit Isaac Florentine directed this! Held to the standards of Florentine’s amazing UNDISPUTED 2, 3 and 4, NINJA 1 and 2 or other Scott Adkins vehicles it can’t really compete. But for a non-martial artist Banderas has some good fights, and it has a nice, weird revenge story for him to sink his actor teeth into.

He plays Frank Valera, a successful defense attorney who, like all workaholic dads in movies, promises to be at his daughter (Lillian Blankenship, SECURITY)’s talent show where she’s singing a song specifically for him but he stays at work too long and gets there after it’s over and feels like a piece of shit and emotionally watches the cell phone video of her singing and tries to call to apologize to his wife (Cristina Serafini, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE) but man did he fuck up, this guy.

(For what it’s worth, most of the delay was caused by gridlock, and he was honking his horn alot. It was mostly out of his control.)

But he never sees his wife and daughter again. They’re found murdered. At the funeral his father-in-law (a mean cameo by Robert Forster [UNCLE SAM]) basically tells him to go fuck himself and never even think of talking to him at any point ever. The police (specifically Johnathon Schaech of ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL fame) don’t have any leads, and it’s expensive to rent three billboards about it so instead he goes to a bar and gets drunk and wanders downstairs where there’s some underground fighting going on. (It would be amazing if Boyka or any other UNDISPUTED character was seen in the cage, but no dice.) Here he learns that a good way to deal with his grief is to provoke the fighters into beating the holy hell out of him.

I told you it got a little weird. And how bout this: after using a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to plug a stab wound, Frank becomes enamored with the philosophy of Stoicism and vows not to speak another word until he avenges his family. In his life as an attorney he’s contributed more than his fair share of jibber-jabber – over four times the average, according to the figures he gives in voiceover narration – and now he learns that “Good things do happen when you shut the fuck up for a minute or two.”

I like the working title and poster better.

In fact, shutting the fuck up for a minute or two seems to give him super-human hearing abilities a little like Daredevil, which is completely absurd on a literal level but also kinda poetic in my opinion. If you stop trying to be the center of attention, stop telling, stop splaining, start listening and focusing and paying attention, suddenly you have access to facets of the world you have always ignored.

And by the way, he never lays out any rules, but he doesn’t cheat. No sign language, no charades, no Pictionary. Frank just interacts with people who are okay just talking to him and looking at his grim expressions. Maybe an occasional slight nod for “goodbye” because shit is too serious right now for waving.

I mean, I gotta respect screenwriter Matt Venne (WHITE NOISE 2, MIRRORS 2, FRIGHT NIGHT 2) for writing a movie about this. It’s a good mix of reliable revenge template and intriguing oddness.

It turns into a vigilante/detective thing with Frank snooping around for clues, following people, also befriending an ER nurse (Paz Vega, THE SPIRIT) and a cop who moonlights as a cage fighter (Karl Urban, PATHFINDER). Urban looks burlier than usual – did a guy that does STAR TREK movies and shit really train this much for a DTV movie? I hope so.

When Frank decides to change his life he moves his dumb car out of the garage and replaces it with equipment so he can start working out and training. During a montage, Florentine himself appears as Frank’s karate instructor, showing off a bunch of the type of fast kicks the heroes and anti-heroes of his movies do. (I thought I say him later in the ring, too, but I guess it was just a guy who looks kinda like him. It would be cool if it was him though because it would be the guy who taught Frank how to fight getting casually pounded down by a guy he’s gonna have to fight.)

The fight choreographer is Tim Man (NINJA 2, BOYKA), who is also seen training Frank in the montage. I like that Man gives Frank more skills than are realistic for such a short period of training, but also gives his fights a sort of THEY LIVE street fight quality – lots of picking up and slamming, rolling, smashing into things, hitting or stabbing people with things. The climactic fight between Frank and the main villain (SPOILER yeah obviously it’s Urban END SPOILER) is really well done with some long shots where it is visibly Banderas, not a stunt double, doing several moves in a row. Good job Banderas. We got a regular Charlize on our hands here.

There are little hints of current controversies involving police and race. We hear Frank mention systemic racism while talking about a case at the beginning. Urban’s character says he cage fights because “Way people feel about cops – sometimes I just gotta blow off steam.” And Frank himself gives the most significant beating of the movie to the one major black character (Clint Dyer, SHOPPING) who turns out to be just an innocent homeless working man caught in the middle. At the same time there is frustration with bad people who are not cops getting away with things. It’s not completely clear if Frank was ever a crusader for justice, but he definitely had some cases where he got actual killers off. (One headline says “on a technicality”.) Only now does he see the shame in this.

But the movie’s strongest themes are more personal: the idea of grieving, of blaming and punishing ourselves, of vengeance and trying to be the better man. As you can see from the dedication at the end, Florentine suffered a tragic loss during filming, and it certainly seems like he’s working some things out with this movie. It may be speaking in low budget action movie language, but what it’s saying is very heartfelt.

R. Emmet Sweeney at Filmmaker Magazine did a good interview with Florentine about the movie

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.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 28th, 2017 at 12:24 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Acts of Vengeance”

  1. This is an odd one. A little bit forced and constructed. But I liked it. In my book Banderas is an action hero who just happened to get famous by starring in a row of oddly cool Spanish movies. THIS is what he’s REALLY good at.

  2. I didn’t think it was Karl Urban at any point because I’m stupid when it comes to mysteries. I loved this one but you all know that. I look forward to Vern’s 24 Hours to Live review.

  3. I guess it was Karl Urban by just watching the trailer. I finally watched the film last Sunday. But the last shot of Urban the ring, and how little he was in the trailer it was so obvious he was going to be the killer. To get away with casting someone like Urban in such a small role you need to cast someone like Gary Sinise or Martin Donovan in another role as a mis direction.

  4. I thought it was going to be a team up movie so they can work around the lead not speaking. Turns out they used voiceovers instead. I think the use of voice overs does take away from the impact.

  5. The Undefeated Gaul

    November 28th, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    It’s an interesting film, this, and Banderas is GREAT in it (just that opening scene already, when he’s punched the guy in the kitchen already but silences him with a finger to his mouth while barring the door) and it’s got an interesting concept (the whole stoic thing). But the story in the end is just too fucking generic, using every cliché in the book, and making no sense whatsoever most of the time (SPOILERS – so Urban lost his kid, and he’s so completely destroyed by it that he would another child as indirect payback and be all evil about it and gloat and shit?? – END SPOILERS). The scene where Banderas tells Urban that his choice of words “his wife and daughter’s murder has become a cold case” means the case is dead, because believe me, he’s done that type of shit before as a lawyer, twisting words… Yeah, no shit, even my 3 year old kid who doesn’t speak English would have understood that! It’s just way too on the nose with just about everything. Yet Banderas still has it, that gripping quality that keeps you watching, and he singlehandedly raises the film a couple of levels higher, making the whole thing worth a watch.

  6. I liked this movie okay, but with all the action movie cliches and portentious quotes and voiceover narration and too-cute-by-half setup… it’s just too much. It’s not just on-the-nose, it’s on the exact center of the nose to within a tolerance of one micron. I wonder what would have happened if he’d plugged up his stab wound with a copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Secret or something.

    Between this and SECURITY I think Banderas is one to watch in the DTV action space, although I hope he manages pays off whatever tax bills are forcing him into these roles.

  7. Perhaps Urban’s training coincided with Thor: Ragnarok and Act of Vengeance benefited.

  8. And as usual it’s made in Bulgaria. That country must crawling with film teams.

  9. This one didn’t really build to much (two non-martial artists having a martial arts fight in a garage) but it took a quirky route to get there. I do feel like the early setup scenes were a bit too generic, though. If I never have to see another funeral scene with a black umbrella motif or another scene where an entitled citizen berates a detective for not magically conjuring up evidence out of thin air, I’ll be a happy man. I also don’t think the most incarcerated society on earth, where private prisons profit off of inmates, has any business doing the whole “The justice system just lets criminals back on the street!” thing anymore. And christ, this might be the laziest use of the “random nurse takes in injured hero for like no fucking reason” trope I’ve ever seen. She didn’t find him in the woods near her secluded cabin far from medical help. She had no reason to believe he would be in trouble if she called the police, nor would she put herself at risk by calling them. She’d never laid eyes on him before in her life so it’s not like she felt like she owed him for something. She just found a bleeding guy slumped next to his own luxury automobile and decided, “Hey, I better take this guy home.” Then she discovers he’s been shot and, despite working in a hospital and knowing full well that she is legally obligated to report all gunshot wounds to the police, she’s like “I guess I’ll just put my nursing career at risk by doing this one extracurricular style.” IT MAKES NO SENSE.

    Also what happened to that car? Did he walk home?

    And then she starts telling him about the coughing homeless guy even though there’s no way for him to ask her about him if he’s not writing notes or anything. What, she just looked at his face and understood what he wanted to know? They just skipped the part where he asked the question and hoped we wouldn’t notice. That’s a cheat.

    Shit was a little convenient for him in general. He needs to learn how to fight so he just happens to walk into what looks like a Fudruckers with an underground fighting tournament in the basement. He doesn’t just turn an attack dog to his side with a glance, it also just happens to be an attack dog with TSA-trained tracking abilities. He can’t just be helped by a nurse, she’s gotta be a nurse with connections to the homeless community and the Russian mob. As a fan of the investigative process, I found it all a little pat.

    But whatever. It was a good time once the character started distinguishing himself, and I liked how it was basically Florentine’s KILL BILL, complete with out-of-order chapter breaks. The fights were a good mix of sloppy and efficient. I bought that this character could pull off these moves. The Banderaissance continues.

    Also I guess I need to read some Marcus Aurelius.

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