Friday, February 9, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: ACCIDENT MAN (2018); 24 HOURS TO LIVE (2017); and STRATTON (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Comparisons to JOHN WICK are inevitable, but ACCIDENT MAN's origins lie in a short-lived comic strip by Pat Mills that ran in the UK publication Toxic! in 1991, with Dark Horse Comics running another series of stories in 1993. All these years later, the film adaptation is a pet project of DTV action star Scott Adkins, who also produced and co-wrote the script with his buddy Stu Small. 41-year-old Adkins is a guy who's been paying his dues for years, building up a fan base the old-fashioned way by working his ass off as one of the most prolific actors around, whether it's in his own low-budget B-movies (the UNDISPUTED sequels, two NINJAs, HARD TARGET 2) or by taking smaller supporting roles in A-list fare like ZERO DARK THIRTY, DOCTOR STRANGE, and AMERICAN ASSASSIN. Adkins is long overdue for break, and in a perfect world, ACCIDENT MAN would be the #1 movie in the country for at least a week and Scott Adkins the next major action star. There's no denying it's got a JOHN WICK-if-directed-by-Matthew Vaughn (KICK-ASS, KINGSMAN) thing going on, and its irreverent humor recalls DEADPOOL (one can imagine a Hollywood studio getting this and relegating Adkins to a supporting role while Ryan Reynolds or maybe Chris Pratt get the lead) and the kind of vintage style and attitude of Vaughn's one-time creative partner Guy Ritchie, a point brought home by the presence of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS star Nick Moran as a scheming lawyer. ACCIDENT MAN is a mash-up of numerous styles and influences, and though it's been relegated to the world of straight-to-DVD, an audience would have a blast with it in a packed theater.

Adkins is Mike Fallon, a deadly assassin known to his colleagues as the "Accident Man," as he stages all of his kills to look like accidents or suicides. He hangs out with fellow killers at a secret assassin bar in London called The Oasis (shades of JOHN WICK's luxury hotel-for-killers The Continental), run by their boss and retired "death merchant" Big Ray (Ray Stevenson). Among the Oasis' regulars are Special Forces badasses Mick (Michael Jai White) and Mac (Ray Park); unhinged Jane the Ripper (Amy Johnston); Finicky Fred (Perry Benson), who's always experimenting with new methods of death; axe-murderer Carnage Cliff (Ross O'Hennessey); and the nearly-feral Poison Pete (Stephen Donald), described by Fallon as so hated by his parents that "his only bath-time toy was a toaster." Fallon's still bitter over his environmental activist ex Beth (Brooke Johnston) leaving him for Charlie, who turned out to be a woman (Ashley Greene), but when Charlie reaches out to him after Beth is raped and murdered by a pair of crackhead burglars, he correctly concludes that things aren't adding up. He uncovers a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a powerful oil company whose illegal dealings Beth was about to expose, prompting the company's attorney (Moran) to reach out to Milton (David Paymer), the contractor for Fallon and his fellow death merchants. When Fallon realizes that Beth was killed by someone close to him, both he and Charlie's lives are in danger as Milton and Big Ray are forced to put out a hit on Fallon because, as it's often said among those at The Oasis, "it's just business." Directed by DTV vet Jesse V. Johnson (who worked with Adkins on the recent SAVAGE DOG), ACCIDENT MAN is filled with quotable dialogue, over-the-top violence (having Stevenson here is a nice nod to PUNISHER: WAR ZONE), and some incredible fight sequences. It looks like a big-budget Hollywood movie and its only real misstep is a long flashback to Fallon's bullied teen years when he first encountered mentor Big Ray that's dropped right in the middle of the film and really kills the momentum. It takes a little time to recover from that stumble, but it finishes big and despite its after-the-fact similarities to JOHN WICK that don't do it any favors, it's a really fun movie and one of the best and most-polished DTV titles to come down the pike in some time. When the time comes, dare I suggest Scott Adkins as the next 007? (R, 105 mins)

(China/US - 2017)

A fusion of JOHN WICK, a globetrotting BOURNE thriller, SAFE HOUSE, and the old noir classic D.O.A. with a hint of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, 24 HOURS TO LIVE takes 30 minutes to get to the crux of its premise but then never really exploits it to its goofy potential. Travis Conrad (Ethan Hawke) is an assassin for a shadowy contracting outfit called Red Mountain, which handles all of the government's dirty work around the world. He's been "on hiatus" for a year following the deaths of his wife and son, but he's pulled back in by colleague and old buddy Jim (Paul Anderson). Red Mountain needs Conrad to kill Keith Zera (Tyrone Keogh), an ex-operative-turned-whistleblower who's about to give a deposition to a UN panel investigating the true purpose of Red Mountain. Zera's in the protective custody of Interpol agent Lin (Xu Qing), who's ambushed in Namibia and plants Zera in a safe house in Cape Town. Conrad's assignment is to get to Lin in order to find Zera. He does so by staging a meet-cute in an airport bar and somehow using his smartphone to hack into the airport computer system to make her believe her flight's canceled. They spend the night together, and while she's in the shower, he searches through her belongings and finds where she's got Zera, but opts to leave without killing her. She chases him outside, a shootout ensues, and Conrad is killed instantly when she fires point blank in his chest.

But not so fast. Conrad wakes up in an undisclosed location in South Africa. It seems Red Mountain has been working on an experimental and classified procedure to bring its operatives back from the dead and Conrad, killed before he was able to divulge Zera's whereabouts, is the perfect guinea pig. Once Jim and Red Mountain CEO Wetzler (a harumphing Liam Cunningham) get what they need, they order the plug pulled on Conrad (of course, they simply leave the room and just assume everything went according to plan). Conrad manages to escape, but is informed by a doctor that the procedure has a fail-safe and if his body and faculties don't decline fast enough, they'll shut down and he'll be permanently dead in 24 hours. Missing his wife and son and feeling guilty about all the people he's killed, Conrad decides use his remaining time to take on Red Mountain when they go after Lin and her ten-year-old son. Director Brian Smrz is a veteran stuntman and there's no shortage of well-choreographed JOHN WICK-ish action scenes, but a lot of 24 HOURS TO KILL is a slog. Conrad will be dead in 24 hours, but what's the point of such a procedure? Do enough Red Mountain assassins get killed just before delivering vital info that they'd need to spend billions developing this capability? And why did they take the time to surgically implant a Snake Plissken countdown timer in his arm if they were going to re-kill him instantly anyway once they got the info they needed? Is it there just in case he manages to kill the medical staff and escape and know just how much time he has to exact his revenge on his employers? At least the deadlines in D.O.A. and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK have some logical foundation. In the end, it's more or less JOHN WICK meets a less-horror-centric DEAD HEAT, the '80s cult movie where Treat Williams played a cop brought back from the dead. 24 HOURS TO KILL wisely doesn't turn Hawke--whose character may as well be named Wick Plissken--into a zombie assassin, but still, the four-time Oscar nominee is in total coast mode here as he usually is when he stars in a junky action movie (like the terrible 2013 car chase thriller GETAWAY), and was probably more intrigued by a paid vacation to exotic locations in South Africa and Australia. Rutger Hauer has a small role as a fatherly buddy of Conrad's and while he's underused and barely in it, Smrz at least has the sense to let him shotgun some bad guys near the end. (R, 94 mins)

(UK/Germany - 2017; US release 2018)

Filmed in 2015, the first big-screen adaptation of British author Duncan Falconer's Stratton novels was a flop in the UK after two years on the shelf and only managed a straight-to-VOD release in the US in the first weekend of 2018. Falconer, a retired veteran of the UK's Special Boat Service, has written eight novels centered on heroic SBS badass John Stratton, but STRATTON looks like the beginning and end of the movie franchise. Henry Cavill dropped out less than a week before filming began, with his last-minute replacement being the elfin Dominic Cooper, one of those actors who stays busy and turns up in a lot of things but just doesn't have the charisma or screen presence to carry a movie on his own (though he did get some praise for the little seen THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE several years ago). STRATTON is watchable but about as generic and forgettable as they come, as Stratton and the rest of his SBS team are compromised on a botched mission to wipe out a terrorist cell in Iran, resulting in the death of their US Navy colleague Marty (Tyler Hoechlin). The culprit is rogue Russian FSB agent and international terrorist Gregor Barofsky (Thomas Kretschmann), who's resurfaced 20 years after his supposed death. Barofsky's master plan is to detonate a dirty bomb and unleash a deadly chemical gas called "Satan's Snow" throughout London. As expected, Stratton is on the case, with new American recruit Hank (Austin Stowell) joining the team, which also consists of Aggy (Gemma Chan), Spinks (Jack Fairbrother), and MI-6 point man Cummings (Tom Felton), with Stratton's boss Cummings (Connie Nielsen) usually watching with other tech personnel on the requisite rows of monitors in the obligatory Jason Bourne crisis suite.

Director Simon West still seems to be coasting on the recognition of his past Hollywood hits like CON AIR, THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER, and LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, and while he did helm the decent Jason Statham remake of THE MECHANIC and the best EXPENDABLES movie (the second one), he's in total clock-punch mode here. It's fast-moving and never dull but it evaporates from your memory while you're watching it, and it relies on every cliche imaginable. Of course, there's a traitorous mole in Stratton's unit, and the actor in question has a terrible poker face, introduced shiftily darting his eyes around and instantly looking suspicious. And of course, being a lone wolf hero, Stratton lives on a messy houseboat with what looks like one chair and a lamp with a low-wattage bulb, and it's littered with half-empty liquor bottles. Derek Jacobi's effortless charm provides a couple of nice scenes as Stratton's fatherly neighbor and drinking buddy, but STRATTON does nothing to elevate itself from the utterly average. (R, 95 mins)

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