(US/UK - 2019)
THE DEBT COLLECTOR and TRIPLE THREAT weren't exactly the Adkins/Johnson duo's finest work, they really clicked on SAVAGE DOG, the terrific ACCIDENT MAN, and now AVENGEMENT, a film that should be playing on 2500 screens and turning Adkins into an A-list movie star. He stars as Cain Burgess, a convict in London's Bellmarsh Prison, a hellhole affectionately known as "The Meat Grinder." Given a supervised 12-hour, six-man security furlough to visit his dying mother in the hospital, he arrives 20 minutes after she passes--partially because the cops stopped for vanilla lattes, which really sours his mood. He manages to escape and embarks on a two-day rampage of revenge across London, settling old scores with everyone who had a hand in turning him into the violent psychopath he's become, with the ultimate target being his big brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass), a ruthless loan shark whose backstabbing machinations led to Cain's incarceration in The Meat Grinder.
Johnson and co-writer Stu Small arrange the story in a non-linear fashion through time jumps and flashbacks as Cain ends up at Lincoln's bar and holds a bunch of his flunkies hostage--including his right-hand man Hyde (Nick Moran)--and informs them what he's been up to over the last couple of days as he waits for his brother's arrival. Like an unholy alliance between Guy Ritchie (especially with Moran's presence), Steven Soderbergh, and longtime Adkins collaborator Isaac Florentine (the UNDISPUTED sequels and the two NINJA films among others), AVENGEMENT is a bit more imaginatively constructed than you normally see in VOD action fare, and in terms of style, ambition, and quality, it's a step up for Adkins and especially Johnson, following through on the promise of ACCIDENT MAN. But this is the Scott Adkins Show from start to finish. Outfitted with a grill after Cain loses most of his teeth in a prison brawl stair-stomping and with a face adorned with cut scars and burns after being splashed with homemade napalm by another inmate ("Looks like someone set fire to your face and tried to put it out with a shovel," Hyde snarks), Adkins looks like a feral, roid-raging Pete Postlethwaite in a performance of frightening intensity. A fundamentally good man--his boxing career ended when he became persona non grata after disobeying orders from Lincoln to throw a fight--Cain has been handed a shit deal by life at every turn, and the very person he looked up to is the one who continually threw him under the bus for his own personal gain and/or to save his own ass (watch the pain Adkins conveys with his eyes when his terminally mother visits him in prison for the last time and says "Thank God Lincoln is there for me"). Cain Burgess is a great movie character brought to vivid life by a seething, explosive Adkins. There are moments in this where he doesn't even look human. Filled with genuinely unpredictable twists and surprises and one of the great action sequences of the year once all hell breaks loose in the bar, AVENGEMENT is an instant cult classic and with its current 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems like mainstream critics are finally taking notice of Adkins. It's about fucking time. (Unrated, 88 mins)
(UK/US - 2019)
sleeper agent Steven Seagal has an even shakier foundation than usual. GENERAL COMMANDER was conceived in 2017 as a 12-episode TV series, but the project was abandoned by creator/co-director Philippe Martinez (JCVD's WAKE OF DEATH) after just two episodes were shot. The solution? Just put those two 40-minute episodes together and release it as a new Seagal movie. That certainly explains the abrupt non-ending that probably served as a cliffhanger to the third episode, along with the credit "Created by Philippe Martinez," the TV-style opening credits, a GENERAL COMMANDER logo that looks like Martinez should be expecting a cease-and-desist order from Van Halen's lawyers, incredulous technological capabilities that make the CBS prime-time procedural lineup look like John Le Carre tutorials, plus an overwrought but not-completely-terrible theme song performed by co-star Mica Javier. As if it even matters, Seagal *IS* Jake Alexander, the leader of an elite CIA black-ops unit specializing in hunting down the world's richest and deadliest criminals who rule the "dark web" and trade in untraceable cryptocurrency. After one of their own is killed in Cambodia in a botched raid on a black market organ harvesting operation, Alexander's handler (Martinez's wife Megan Brown Martinez, who's maybe a worse actor than Seagal) grows tired of his cowboy methods and disbands the unit. Alexander goes rogue, getting financing from wealthy Russian investor--wink wink--Katarina Sokolov (Evgeniya Ahkremenko) to set up his own freelance operation to track down Gino Orsetti (Edoardo Costa), the wealthy and powerful Malta shitbag and apparent Maximilian Schell cosplayer who's behind the black market organ outfit.
There's a couple of go-through-the-motions action sequences, and Seagal has about a 12-second, badly-edited fight scene with a CIA assassin played by Ron Smoorenburg, but even factoring in the extremely diminished expectations of a present-day Seagal movie, GENERAL COMMANDER is a crushing bore. Much of that is due to all of the exposition and background that must be established in any premiere episode of a TV series, which just makes it all the more obvious that this is just two episodes crammed together (Ross W. Clarkson is credited as a second director, the assumption being that he helmed the second episode, which relies far less on the ridiculous, wanky flourishes and pointless echo effects on some dialogue in the first half). Seagal is still the laziest actor alive, but at least he isn't obviously doubled like he usually would be (I guess this is him showing "commitment") and is actually there in most of the shots with his co-stars. Don't think he's turning over a new leaf, though: Seagal does disappear for unusually long stretches throughout, which is pretty much on-brand for a Steven Seagal TV series. (R, 85 mins)