I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

The Debt Collector

“Look, you’re a tough guy, but you’re also a good guy.”
“I ain’t that good, mate. You saw what I did to that lad, didn’t ya?”

Yeah, I know, you’re all aware that Scott Adkins is the reigning king of DTV action. That’s not new information. You’re all well acquainted with UNDISPUTED II and III and 4 and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, if not HARD TARGET 2 or EL GRINGO or the other ones.

What hasn’t been discussed as much is that our favorite English martial artist has hit a new stride in his string of collaborations with director Jesse V. Johnson. Last year they did SAVAGE DOG, a weird and brutal period piece, followed a few months ago by the smart-ass assassin tale ACCIDENT MAN. Adkins gives honestly great performances in stoic roles like Boyka, who grunt almost as much as they speak, and I love those types of characters. But as co-writer and producer of ACCIDENT MAN, he not only gave himself a ton of great fight scenes, but all kinds of witty dialogue and first person narration that no other onscreen kicker could handle. And his latest continues the trend of retaining his Englishness and showing great charisma and verbal dexterity while still living up to the action expectations of a marquee-name martial arts star.

THE DEBT COLLECTOR (which came out on DVD Tuesday) is another funny crime story, but it’s much more grounded than the playful heightened reality of ACCIDENT MAN. Adkins plays French (that’s his name, not his nationality, which he gets tired of explaining), a stubborn Iraq combat veteran turned martial arts instructor turned guy who gets desperate enough to beg his (only?) student (Michael Paré [STREETS OF FIRE] in a small but excellent role) to hook him up with a job as a collector (well, they say “mediator”) for mobsters. He’s partnered with burnt out Sue (Louis Mandylor, WRONG TURN AT TAHOE, BARE KNUCKLES), ex-boxer turned guy who lets you drive his prized Coupe de Ville because he’s always too hung over to do it himself.

Remember in the ’90s after Tarantino, when the main interest of young indie directors was cool crime movies? This is a good version of one of those, but mixed with an asskicking Adkins vehicle. It has some elements that remind me of PULP FICTION (bickering criminal buddy duo driving around L.A. outskirts and suburbs, complaining about job conditions in between threatening panicked young druggies who are in over their heads with organized crime), but not the ones that were so annoyingly copycatted back in the day (characters talking about pop culture, non-linear storytelling). Tarantino was focusing on parts usually skipped over in crime stories, like the hitmen getting to the place too early and having to wait around and shoot the shit for a while. Much of the appeal of THE DEBT COLLECTOR is the relationship that grows between these guys while talking in the car, but since it’s an Adkins movie everywhere they go turns into a big fight, usually against some mean behemoth bodyguard who keeps coming and takes some doing to knock out. (Also, the reason he gets into crime is to save his humble little martial arts school. I will never not like that trope.)

Of course French and Sue end up getting into some shit, but it’s really not structured like a thriller, it’s more of a hangout story about French’s first weekend on the job, learning the techniques and the personalities involved, finding out why you should ignore the boss (Vladimir Kulich, THE 13TH WARRIOR)’s instructions to wear a suit. They drive around with a computer printout listing the guys they have to find, along with a 1-10 rating for the level of violence expected by the client. They knock on and kick down doors and scare the shit out of people, but also they – well, mostly French – get disrespected, dragged by cars, shot at, chased by thugs, thrown through walls and desks. French is kind of pissed off and exasperated by the craziness of the job, but Sue keeps convincing him that he’s also having fun. And it turns out Adkins is really funny when he’s irritated and sarcastic.

It’s obvious from the fight scenes that Sue was a boxer (some of his punches sound like those big red balls you bounce in elementary school), but he’s also really proud that he was once in a ninja movie. I like seeing the star of NINJA and NINJA II seeming impressed to learn that.

It’s the rare action movie where the hero doesn’t have a love interest, or even a deceased wife or a daughter. But it’s an extremely sexist world and you notice French wincing whenever Sue is being threatening toward females. Their boss works out of a strip club, one of their clients (Tony Todd, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) has an entourage of bikini ladies standing around him. The main women with speaking roles are treacherous, like the one cheating on Tony Todd or the one that fucks Sue in the backyard while French takes her husband inside to get the money. But there’s another one who has an attitude and is 100% in the right, and it’s sort of a breaking point for our boys.

The only time there seems to be a positive male-female relationship is when Sue stops home to see his aging prostitute girlfriend Lola (Sara Finley). It’s a very sweet scene between these two broken people who honor their glory days with fringe movie posters from their pasts (his ninja, hers XXX), but maybe I’m naive not to worry why she’s asking him for $300.

Johnson is the nephew of the legendary Vic Armstrong, and has worked as a stuntman since the original TOTAL RECALL. He started writing and directing shorts in the late ’90s. According to this excellent interview in Filmmaker Magazine, he wrote THE DEBT COLLECTOR “about 15 years ago,” before he’d even directed PIT FIGHTER (2005), which has a special appearance by Adkins.

Adkins’ ACCIDENT MAN co-writer and childhood friend Stu Small rewrote the script for him, but it still feels like a personal story for Johnson after decades working his ass off doing stunts and low-low-budget films. These guys have their long, crazy days and they feel abused and hate themselves and they can’t believe this shit and they come home so sore they can barely take their shoes off and all they can do is go to sleep and get up and do it again in the morning because they need the money and they want to drink themselves to death but maybe they love the job? And they want to do something they can be proud of when they look themselves in the mirror.

I started paying attention to Johnson after his 2009 movie THE BUTCHER starring Eric Roberts. That one proved his affinity for a certain type of aging, masculine character actor, evident here as well. I’m not too familiar with Mandylor, but he’s fantastic in sort of a Mickey-Rourke-ian performance as a mumbly, sweaty, lovable mess – funny and kind of cool and kind of an asshole and looks like he slept in the car because he did. He and Adkins have a great chemistry, they’re really funny together, and they’re absolutely good enough that it could just be a straight character-based crime movie and not have to have a bunch of martial arts in it.

But why would you do that? That would be stupid. The fight choreographer/stunt coordinator is Luke LaFontaine (THE LAST SENTINEL, SAVAGE DOG).

There are a few insignificant things I could criticize. There’s a fight where the serious music gets in the way of some laughs, for example, and an audacious turn of events I won’t give away that didn’t feel quite right to me (though the more I think about it the more I think I might like it). But THE DEBT COLLECTOR really fulfills the potential Johnson showed with THE BUTCHER, using a pretty similar world and characters but with much stronger, tighter filmmaking, more of a sense of humor and far more sophisticated action.

I don’t know how many people will end up seeing this movie, and for some reason they didn’t even put it out on Blu-Ray in the US (just DVD). But if there’s any justice in the world it will open new doors for Adkins, Mandylor and Johnson. It’s likely to be a career highlight for all of them.

Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins will return in TRIPLE THREAT

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 Thursday, June 7th, 2018 at 11:58 am and is filed under Action, Crime, 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.

35 Responses to “The Debt Collector”

  1. Wait a minute, is Louis Mandylor related to Costas of the later SAW sequels?

  2. I checked and yes they are brothers. Thanks for your time everybody

  3. Seems like it’s already out in Germany since April, under the title PAY DAY. Even on Blu-Ray!

  4. My son and I rented it last night off the Xbox live Microsoft store (Didn’t realize that they let you have it for two weeks… That’s pretty good.). I thought it was really enjoyable in ways that I wasn’t expecting.

    Anyone know when they’re ever going to release Triple Threat? We’re pretty excited about that one.

  5. I’ve liked Louis Mandylor since MARTIAL LAW, it’s a pity his character was downgraded and eventually written out when Arsenio Hall was brought in to make it more RUSH HOUR-esque. He’s been a fixture in a few of Williams Kaufman’s films too: ONE IN THE CHAMBER, SINNERS AND SAINTS(along with his brother Costas, who I had the pleasure of meeting last month), and DAYLIGHT’S END. But anyway, yes, he and Scott Adkins are great together in this movie. I’m still processing how I feel about some of the stylistic choices, namely the periodic inserts of black-and-white footage of cows. Like maybe the symbolism/foreshadowing is a little too heavy-handed. But it’s a minor quibble.

  6. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 8th, 2018 at 1:15 am

    This has been out here since May on DVD only, but I only found out when I went to order it on the 5th of this month as that was the release date Adkins kept mentioning on Facebook.

    Anyway, saw it last night, really liked it. It’s great to see Adkins show more of his charisma/acting skills now than he used to, and Mandylor was super likeable (I did think he was the guy from SAW until I read the posts above, shame on me). He actually got me to tear up a little with the story about his daughter. I’m always an easy target for stuff that involves daughters, but man he delivered that shit like a pro.

    Only thing that felt off for me was the ending, not so much about what happens but how it was shot – I feel like Johnson is much, MUCH more at home shooting martial arts stuff than he is doing gunfights. The whole movie is well paced, shot and directed, but then at the end you suddenly get this really amateurish feeling shootout that lacks any excitement whatsoever. The slow motion only emphasizes that nobody is actually doing anything cool, and nobody seems to be able to hit each other from about 2 meters away while shooting non-stop for minutes on end.

    Even so, after seeing this and ACCIDENT MAN I am now totally fine with Johnson and have much more faith in TRIPLE THREAT. I had my doubts after SAVAGE DOG, but now I know he can do much better – it just didn’t come out properly in that one.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 8th, 2018 at 1:23 am

    Btw, anyone seen INCOMING, Adkins’ super low budget space prison film that apparently released last month as well? Reviews seem to agree it’s bad and I guess Adkins agrees as I don’t think he ever posted a single thing about it on social media. I had to learn of its existence from my dad of all people, if he hadn’t told me I probably still wouldn’t have known about it.

  8. Johnson definitely gets the most improved award for me. I was not overly impressed with the early movies that caught Vern’s eye but his last two were excellent and weird and that’s what I want out of DTV action. I’m gonna go pick this one up today.

    One thing I like about Adkins is that he seems honest. Everybody famous nowadays has to hustle all the time to get their shit out there, even if it’s garbage, but it seems like Adkins only goes to bat for the projects he believes in. If he makes a movie and it doesn’t deliver, he’s not out there stumping for it the way he does the ones he believes in. You really feel that he doesn’t want you to feel ripped off.

  9. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 8th, 2018 at 7:35 am

    True, the ones he’s most passionate about on social media always seem to turn out great. Also, he’s got such a great streak going with BOYKA, ACCIDENT MAN and now THE DEBT COLLECTOR that I can imagine he wants to keep the momentum going and not focus on a bad one that’s suddenly thrown in there. Probably thinking that the less people notice that one, the better. Judging by the reviews and the trailer, INCOMING does seem to look out of place in that line up, especially with exciting stuff like TRIPLE THREAT and IP MAN 4 coming up.

  10. Haven’t seen the movie yet, looking forward to it, I watch the majority of Adkins’ stuff (though I skip the ones that look super low-rent and are hard to find much info about). I just wanna say, though, that that’s a really nice and stylish movie poster. The VOD thumbnail I saw, which I think is also the DVD cover, is pretty bad and might have out me off watching for it if I wasn’t already on the lookout for it because of Adkins.

  11. ACCIDENT MAN may be more my speed but this was a solid little movie and I can now say I look forward to the Adkins/Johnson joints just as much as the Adkins/Florentine joints now.

  12. I hate to say it but I think the reason why I am starting to get into Adkins movies more has to be a direct correlation on him working with Jesse Johnson. I respect Issac Florentine a lot but I don’t think he really knows how to use Adkins when he’s not doing a Russian accent.

  13. “But if there’s any justice in the world it will open new doors for Adkins”

    HOW MANY TIMES ARE WE GOING TO REPEAT THIS?????

    Man, there is no fucking justice in this world.

  14. Sterny: I agree that, minus the Boyka persona, Adkins gets kind of lost in the NINJ* films (particularly the first one), but I think he has much more presence in CLOSE RANGE (my sleeper fave AdFlo collabo) than he did in those earlier joints. And as Vern mentioned, he keeps getting better at the talking part of his job so he’ll probably be even better the next time they team up on a non-Boyka project.

  15. I couldn’t get into Close Range but just barely finished it with some fast forwarding. I couldn’t even finish Ninja and Ninja 2. It happens, no big thing.

  16. CLOSE RANGE is almost laughably generic, but I tend to enjoy the siege action template more than…whatever the plots of the NINJ* movies were. It doesn’t elevate the genre in any way, but I appreciate how bare-bones it is. It trusts that this isn’t the first action movie I’ve ever seen so it dispenses with the niceties and just gets the fuck on with it. For that reason, I’ve probably rewatched it more times than any other Adkins or Florentine joint. It’s a modest little movie that skips right to the good shit.

  17. Siege movies are my favorite sub genre of action films.

  18. Why do you think in America for every John Wick there are a ton of action movies in America that fail or that nobody is really interested in the DTV action genre like they were in the 90s?

  19. Sternshein…well, the politically incorrect answer is that newer generations of American males are a bunch of touchy-feely, never been in a fight wimps.

    I can’t craft an acceptable politically correct answer for you, fortunately.

  20. I’m not sure that is the reason.

  21. Wasn’t crazy about this one, didn’t think the action’s on the same level as Accident Man or Savage Dog. The fights are pretty scarce (especially in the 2nd half) and all but one of the short fight scenes are the same template of Adkins vs Huge Bodyguard.

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. An action movie where the conversations are more entertaining than the fights, and the fights are pretty good too? That’s the dream right there.

    Mandylor was excellent. If they gave Best Supporting Actor Oscars for DTV action, he’d win it in a stunning upset over presumed winner JCVD for KICKBOXER: RETALIATION. I’m sure I’ve seen him before but can’t place it. Either way, that character felt like an old friend immediately, and I hope we see more of Mandylor in the future. It’s the kind of performance that endears an actor to me for life. He had a Geoffrey Lewis vibe that I’d assumed was not possible for any living actor to pull off in this day and age.

    Not sure what that ending is going for. It’s definitely going for SOMETHING, though, and I respect that.

  23. Larry Sternshein

    June 11th, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Louis Mandylor is most famous for being the brother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    You know how you guys sometimes listen to me about DTV action movies? Black Water with Dolph and JCVD is coming out soon and it’s the directorial debut of a cinematographer Pasha Patriki. One movie he did was Gridlocked which I thought was pretty good. The plot is Die Hard mixed with The Hard Way. I think it’s on Netflix. It’s not as good as Security but it’s pretty good. Check it out.

  24. No Blu-ray yet. Do I need to wait for that or will DVD do?

  25. I don’t see why you’d need Blu-ray for this one. It’s a movie that’s mostly about two guys driving around the ugly parts of L.A. and occasionally beating up schlubby dudes in affordable locations. It’s more about the conversations than the visuals.

    In any case, even if it were a symphony of color and texture, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Blu-ray. The way the physical media market is going these days, every film’s first video release is likely to be its last.

  26. I normally buy Blu-Rays too so it feels weird to buy a brand new movie on DVD, but it looks fine, and I agree with Majestyk that it’s not likely to be something that comes out later.

  27. I still buy new DVDs when they’re cheaper, have the same special features as Blu-rays, and aren’t for movies where spectacle or visual style I s the main draw. For instance I just got DEATH WISH and HURRICANE HEIST on DVD and I’m perfectly fine with my purchase. I no longer believe there’s no functional difference between Blu-rays and DVDs but I do believe that for nine out of ten movies, it’s not a difference you’ll notice after a few minutes.

  28. I hold out hope that movies on physical media will continue to be available throughout my lifetime. At the very least as a niche product, with distributors like Arrow Video and 88 Films in the UK, and Umbrella and Shock Records over here. The Millenial’s won’t win this with their Stanflix and googleclouds.

  29. I think Blu-Ray is way more important for old movies than modern ones that were shot and transferred digitally.

  30. Mastor Troy: Yeah fuck those assholes and their digital mediums!

    As for no Blu-ray: I can attest the HD transfer on my iTunes version is nice. Wait…

    I agree that HD makes a bigger difference with older movies, that said I still go HD when possibly but will concede with ‘most’ newer movies I don’t think it’s as big a deal. After doing much studying of the 4K UHD Dolby Vision HDR I have come to the conclusion that I can’t tell the damned difference so HD ( a ‘mere’ 1080ps worth of picture) is good enough for me.

  31. There! THE DEBT COLLECTOR and SAVAGE DOG ordered. I’m usually not that bothered about what format I see stuff in. And as you said, it’s mostly the older stuff that really needs the blu treatment. But if it’s available…

  32. ****VAGUE ENDING SPOILERS****

    I really liked this one! I didn’t care for the ending or the periodic black and white inserts of cattle being slaughtered, but I really enjoyed the majority of the movie, when it’s just a shaggy dog story about two likable heavies driving around the seedier parts of LA and getting into fights with deadbeats. I would have happily watched them make a bunch more collections, and I would have liked to have seen these two characters hanging out again (shame about the ending).

    And I know its part of the charm of these DTV action movies that their reach usually exceeds their grasp, that they are more ambitious and larger-scaled than they can pull off on their limited budgets — but I appreciated that this one had totally realistic ambitions and the scale of the action and the stakes was totally appropriate to the modest setting. So for the most part, there was no reason for anything to feel chintzy or amateurish (even if, again, that can be charming in something like Accident Man).

  33. I can’t say that I remember Louis Mandylor from THE QUEST, and I haven’t seen a lot of his movies, but I can vividly remember not being a huge fan of his brother Costas after seeing him in PICKET FENCES.

  34. Hey, I noticed ol’ Luis Mandylor back in Seagal’s CODE OF HONOR, and even opined that he was a surprisingly charismatic actor for a DTV Seagal movie and that somebody should put him in a real movie someday. Looks like somebody did! Always good to see some actor who’s been working forever but never really got a break (he’s in NOT ANOTHER NOT ANOTHER MOVIE, and not even in the main cast!) finally get a real showcase role and run with it.

  35. Caught this one last night. I have been very impressed with the last few Adkins/JJ movies.
    This one might have been my least favorite- I loved that Savage Dog was essentially a slasher origin story, and Accident Man seems destined to be a minor cult classic.

    DC was still fun, and I love that Adkins is getting a chance lately to show that he can do more than just spin kicks. This reminded me of a fun buddy cop movie from the 80s, except they were working for a gangster.

    The end was a little abrupt and the coda for two minor characters seemed silly. And the random b&w shots of livestock never really made a ton of sense.

    But overall,I was glad I watched it and look forward to seeing what else Adkins and JJ do for future teamups.

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