(Spain/US - 2019)
GOTTI nor as aggressively awful as SPEED KILLS, the dirt racing drama TRADING PAINT is the "best" of John Travolta's recent VOD output simply by default. Oh, make no mistake, it's terrible, but it has a couple of supporting performances that save it from total Travoltablivion. Travolta (also one of 25 credited producers) is Sam "The Man" Munroe (that's the best nickname they could come up with?), a legend on the Alabama dirt racing circuit who's passed the torch on to his son Cam (Toby Sebastian, best known for his stint as Trystane Martell on GAME OF THRONES). Sam's racing team is plagued by minimal funds and Cam is tired of losing, so he causes a rift when he bails to race for his dad's longtime arch-nemesis Bob Linsky (Michael Madsen). Sam and Cam have always been there for each other, especially after Sam was behind the wheel in a car crash that killed his wife 20 years ago, and Sam is so incensed by his son's betrayal that he comes out of retirement and gets back on the track. This almost ends in tragedy after Sam wins a race and Linsky thinks Cam went easy on him, prompting him to have one of his other drivers (Chris Mullinax) try to knock Cam out of the next race, causing Sam to plow right into Cam's car, with the younger Munroe's car going up in flames as he barely makes it out alive with two broken legs. This leads to a reconciliation as Cam goes on a long road to recovery and rejoins his father's team to reclaim the crown from Linsky at the final race of the season.
Co-written by Gary Gerani (PUMPKINHEAD) and directed by Sweden-based Iraqi filmmaker Karzan Kader, TRADING PAINT is as perfunctory and formulaic as it gets. There's no excitement in the blandly-shot racing sequences, and the forced dramatic tension has no foundation or ultimate purpose. Why are Sam and Linsky such bitter rivals? And who thought present-day Michael Madsen, who's more or less morphed into KILL BILL's Budd, was credible casting as the top driver on the circuit? This is the kind of film where characters who already know each other speak in laborious exposition in order to clumsily get the audience up to speed. An early scene has Sam and new girlfriend Becca (Shania Twain, in her acting debut) out fishing, with Sam asking "Why'd you move down here?" as she goes into the whole backstory of her divorce and finding a new job. Wouldn't they have already covered this subject by this point in their relationship? The same goes for the track announcers when Sam rejoins the circuit, their racing analysis essentially serving as an in-movie summary in case you just stumbled on it or dozed off: "Sam 'The Man' Munroe, coming out of retirement and now he's mixed up in the crazy soap opera that has his son Cam driving for his old arch-rival Bob Linsky...hell, you can't write this any better!" Well, they could, but they didn't bother trying (Cam, embarking on his comeback: "Racing is in our blood!"). Twain has a charming screen presence as Becca and certainly deserves to be in a better film, and Kevin Dunn, as Sam's limping buddy Stumpy (that's original), gets a long monologue where he has to tell a really dumb story about how Sam once saved him from an alligator attack (hence, "Stumpy"), but Dunn is a total pro who uses all of his Character Actor Hall of Famer skills to convincingly sell it. The great Barry Corbin also turns up for a cameo as a folksy racing radio show host, and it's these little bits that periodically upgrade TRADING PAINT from "bad" to "inoffensively mediocre." (R, 87 mins)
(US/China/Thailand/Australia/UK - 2019)
Director Jesse V. Johnson--who's worked with Adkins several times, most notably on the wildly entertaining ACCIDENT MAN--and veteran fight choreographer Tim Man (ONG BAK, BOYKA: UNDISPUTED) stage some expectedly brutal throwdowns, and there's a surprising amount of splatter, but TRIPLE THREAT still never really catches fire. It doesn't take advantage of having all of these people in the same movie (there's also retired UFC fighter Michael Bisping, CHOCOLATE's Jeeja Yanin, freestyle full combat champ Dominique Vandenberg, and jump kick world record holder Ron Smoorenburg), and Jaka going off on his own in mid-film to attempt an undercover infiltration of Collins' team seems like a decision made less for the narrative and more to accommodate Uwais' availability. The pace drags in that middle section when the focus is on Payu, Long-Fei, and Xing, and when Payu finally confronts Devereaux after realizing it was he who killed his wife, Jaa is actually forced to growl "This is personal." Adkins has some fun as the villain, even though the script (credited to six writers!) requires him to emphatically declare "This ends tonight!" when he realizes the Triple Threat is coming for him. TRIPLE THREAT leaves no cliche untouched, but while you could certainly do a lot worse in the world at Redbox, this is unfortunately among the most forgettable efforts of almost everyone in it. (R, 96 mins)