Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: THE DEBT COLLECTOR (2018) and INCOMING (2018)

(US - 2018)

Busy DTV action star Scott Adkins reteams with his SAVAGE DOG and ACCIDENT MAN director Jesse V. Johnson for THE DEBT COLLECTOR, an attempted departure that offers plenty of fight scenes but lacks the necessary screenwriting skills to accomplish its unexpected goal of being a Shane Black knockoff. Sporting his sparingly-used natural British accent and in Jason Statham mode, Adkins is French, a ex-British military man and Iraq War vet who's strapped for cash and about to lose his tiny dojo in a rundown L.A. neighborhood. Thanks to a referral from wealthy client Mad Alex (Micheal Pare), French gets a job as a collector for local gangster and loan shark Big Tommy (Vladimir Kulich). Big Tommy pairs French with Sue (Louis Mandylor), a burned-out, hard-drinking cynic who fell into a sketchy life of Hollywood crime after a brief stint as an actor 30 years ago in D-grade '80s ninja movies. Sue shows French the ropes, and much of THE DEBT COLLECTOR's first hour has French learning the ins and outs of "collecting," with a hesitant bond forming between the two. Some semblance of a plot forms when Big Tommy does a favor for powerful club owner Barbosa Furiosa (Tony Todd), who wants French and Sue to track down a rogue employee (Jack Lowe) who he claims embezzled cash from one of his clubs.

ACCIDENT MAN was one of Adkins' most entertaining films not directed by Isaac Florentine, and it signaled a shift into more versatile fare for the actor. THE DEBT COLLECTOR really wants to continue that shift, but its aspirations are far beyond the talent it's got at a core level. Johnson and co-writer/Adkins pal Stu Small seriously lack the gift for biting wit, smartass repartee, and crackerjack plot construction that Shane Black has, which is really a key thing if you're trying to go for something along the lines of KISS KISS BANG BANG or THE NICE GUYS. Instead of lighting-quick ballbusting and guffaw-worthy one-liners, the script just gives Adkins and Mandylor a lot of grumbling and bitching, which is loud but not very funny. THE DEBT COLLECTOR's idea of clever wit is the running gag about French being British--which usually involves someone being introduced to French and replying "Your name's French? You don't sound French"--which lands with as big a thud the tenth time as it does the first. It even tries to go for that self-referential meta-humor with an opening scene that has a trio of gangsters trying to strongarm French into signing over ownership of his dojo, with French even commenting that their plan sounds like something out of an '80s movie. That works if you're KISS KISS BANG BANG, but THE DEBT COLLECTOR just doesn't have the personality or the personnel to play in that league. It's commendable that Adkins is demonstrating a desire to stretch, and he should've been headlining major theatrical action movies for years by now, but with every new Adkins vehicle, I find myself repeating that he's paid his dues and is ready for bigger action movies. The script is lacking, but Johnson also directs Adkins and Mandylor to play their characters way too seriously for this kind of L.A.-set shaggy dog crime story that also fancies itself to be a DTV version of INHERENT VICE with its colorful supporting characters and their silly names. Well-intentioned, but a swing-and-a-miss. (Unrated, 95 mins)

(US/UK - 2018)

Workaholic Adkins also stars in INCOMING, a very low-budget sci-fi thriller shot on the cheap in Serbia. It's got a potentially interesting idea that's conveyed in a derivative fashion for the most part, though like THE DEBT COLLECTOR, it does represent a stretch of sorts, this time with marginally better results. INCOMING is set in a future where the world's terrorists are all held at the International Space Station, a sort of Gitmo-in-space that's a black ops site sanctioned by all of the world's governments but still somehow a secret. The whole operation is run by one guy, eccentric and sadistic Kingsley (Lucas Loughran), who regularly subjects the prisoners to "enhanced interrogation" and also designed the infallible (SPOILER: it's fallible) security system. Supply pilot Bridges (Aaron McCusker of SHAMELESS) arrives for a delivery with a pair of visitors in tow: rogue CIA agent Reiser (Adkins), who's ostensibly there to check on Kingsley, and Dr. Stone (Michelle Lehane), who's there to make sure the prisoners are being treated in a humane fashion ("The Geneva Convention doesn't apply in space!" Reiser barks). Stone expresses concern over Kingsley's treatment of Argun (Vahidin Prelic), the suspected "Alpha" leader of a terrorist organization known as "Wolf Pack," who claimed responsibility for the destruction of Big Ben in London five years earlier (a really shitty visual effect that opens the film). Of course, bleeding heart Stone disobeys protocol and lets herself into Argun's cell to talk to him, and he promptly overpowers her and frees his other Wolf Pack cohorts. They gain control of the Space Station and commandeer its nuclear-capability self-destruct system, steering it toward Moscow, rendering the spacecraft a giant suicide bomb that will start WWIII.

INCOMING doesn't really do Adkins any favors as far as advancing his career beyond DTV, but he at least has the chance to play a sociopathic, cold-blooded anti-hero, taking on both the Wolf Pack and Stone and Bridges, who he eventually sees not as allies but as potential whistleblowers. The film isn't really interested in exploring those implications, but it doesn't have the budget to do much else, so there's a lot of talking and walking around to get it to a reasonable running time. The "standoff on a space station" motif can't help but remind you of somewhat similar scenarios in OUTLAND and the obscure SPACE RAGE, and when the Wolf Pack takes over the vessel, INCOMING essentially turns into CON AIR IN SPACE, minus a cast of recognizable character actors seeing who can go the most over the top. No offense to Prelic, but Argun is hardly the next Cyrus the Virus. Despite the Asylum-level visual effects, INCOMING has a harmless, early '80s New World vibe to it, with a space station set that's moderately effective in a GALAXY OF TERROR/FORBIDDEN WORLD kind of way. It's hardly the worst thing Adkins has done, but it's another example of him spinning his wheels in forgettable fare when he should be headlining bigger movies. It seems like I just said that... (Unrated, 89 mins)

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