I Am Wrath (2016)

I Am Wrath (2016)- * * *

Directed by: Chuck Russell

Starring: John Travolta, Christopher Meloni, and Rebecca DeMornay

Stanley (Travolta) is just a regular working man with a wife, daughter and grandson. Or so it would seem. When his wife Vivian (De Mornay) is killed in an assault in a Fatal Combat-style parking lot situation, he falls back on his Special Ops training so he can track down the baddies responsible. He ends up re-teaming with his old buddy Dennis (Meloni) because the streets of Ohio are too dangerous to navigate alone. Even though they are both highly-trained professionals with an arsenal of guns and knives at their disposal, they didn’t count on one thing…that there’s a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Now having to fight off drug dealing goons, corrupt cops and the like is not enough. Our heroes will have to face the Mr. Big at the top…but who is it? Falling back on the old-time religion, a kindly priest gives Stanley a bible, and it just happens to open to a page declaring I AM WRATH. Stanley decides to take it as a sign and exerts all his wrath on the baddies! But can he save what remains of his family? Find out today…

Since Travolta doesn’t do many action movies, we liked to think of this as a sequel to Chains of Gold. Maybe “I Am Scott Barnes” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it didn’t stop us from imagining what Barnes’s life might be like 25 years later. We were happy with what we saw – I Am Wrath might not be the most original movie to come down the pike, but who really cares? As long as the filmmakers stick to what works in the revenge movie format, there are no problems. Thankfully, here they do. What could have been a disaster is in actuality a crowd-pleasing winner that delivers the goods. You truly get Travolta (and Meloni) unleashed, and as such the kill count is much higher than Scott Barnes ever dared to go for.

Besides our beloved revenge movies, another thing we always love seeing is older heroes laying the smacketh down on young punks. It truly was a joy watching the 62-year-old Travolta shooting, stabbing, and beating up the young whippersnappers. Director Russell, last heard from on the site when we reviewed his Eraser (1996), clearly learned from his time working with Schwarzenegger – keep the pace snappy, and make sure you have a charismatic lead hero. That’s what separates Travolta from someone like a Seagal, who has appeared in similar projects as this one. Travolta has charisma. As does Christopher Meloni (AKA Stabler), so when they’re together, sparks really fly. And there’s no stupid, annoying bickering or some sassy little kid to get in the way of all the awesome revenge action. It’s really a winner all around.

If this movie had come out anytime between, say 1996 and 2004, it would have gone to theaters. But because Hollywood exclusively makes superhero movies now, everything non-spandex-related gets bumped down to On Demand, Netflix, or Redbox. That’s no longer a stigma. Of course, we’ve been celebrating DTV movies since day one, so it’s never been a stigma for us. But, generally speaking, just because DeNiro or Travolta, or anyone else, ends up on some streaming service doesn’t mean their career is floundering like it used to mean in the past. It just means Hollywood has no time for them anymore because they’re preoccupied with the capes-and-tights brigade. I Am Wrath shows you can make small, quality product that comes directly into your home and still has A-list talent involved. This appears to be the future of entertainment, so let’s all prepare for that.

Finally, it should be noted that Dennis’s hideout and front is a barbershop. This of all things probably presented a dilemma for Stanley (or should we say Travolta), seeing as his hair is not real. So he gets a shave instead. How convenient. It’s unlikely Dennis could have lifted the wig off, then placed it back on and then called that a haircut. Travolta should have done like he did in From Paris With Love (2010), and gotten rid of the hairpiece altogether. It might have added to the overall grit of the movie. 

In the end, I Am Wrath is well worth seeing and should really please revenge movie fans. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Hard Target 2 (2016)

Hard Target 2 (2016)- * * *

Directed by: Roel Reine

Starring: Scott Adkins, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, and Robert Knepper

Wes Baylor (Adkins) is on a career trajectory that could be the case for anyone: He was a Las Vegas-based MMA fighter, he accidentally kills his buddy in the ring during a fight, he feels bad, he starts drinking and hits the skids, he begins Punchfighting in Bangkok, and an unscrupulous baddie tricks him into hunting him for sport. Could happen to anybody. Of course, said baddie, Jonah Aldrich (Knepper) has a hunting party with him in the Burmese jungle that also enjoy hunting the greatest prey of all…MINK! Oh wait, no. MAN! These hunting compatriots include a gaggle of stereotypes such as the Weak Link, the Millennial Video Game Designer, the Tough Chick, A Spanish Bullfighter, an Australian Outback (?)-style hunter, and the dad trying to toughen up said Weak Link. 

Aldrich has his second-in-command, Madden (Morrison) as the tough guy of the group. Aldrich is paying off the Burmese authorities with suitcases full of cash, but there’s also a cache of rubies at stake. When the initially down-and-out Baylor (whose MMA nickname was “The Jailor”, which is actually spelled correctly) finds an innocent country girl named Tha (Truong) in the jungle, he finally finds he has something to fight for, and he unleashes his power on the Aldrich group. Will Baylor be a HARD TARGET 2 Aldrich?

While Hard Target 2 is not a bad movie, it doesn’t live up to the potential that a Hard Target sequel starring the great Scott Adkins promises. It’s certainly better than previous Adkins vehicles such as El Gringo (2012), but even seeing this movie for the first time feels like watching a repeat. If we may compare it to a superior Adkins film, Green Street 3 (2013), that one was like admiring a brilliant piano player, while Hard Target 2 is like watching a player piano. It hits all the right notes on cue, but that’s about it. 

It has absolutely beautiful Thai locations, and thankfully the production values are high, but exactly how many Most Dangerous Game/Surviving the Game movies need to be made at this point? Should we be happy that the DTV industry is still making these or not? It depends on your tolerance for a lack of a creative or original plot, or if you just really like the whole “hunting humans in the jungle” thing. There have to be fans out there of it…but how many to justify yet another one?

It all starts right away with a nice bang (complete with some funny yelling), and the whole outing has plenty of action. That being said, the 104-minute running time could have been chopped down a bit. The always-enjoyable Adkins has some great fighting moves on display, but we missed his natural British accent. How come the Burmese country girl had one but he wasn’t allowed to have one? (We think we may have detected a few instances where it slipped through, however).

There are several references to the earlier Hard Target film, from the use of slow motion, to the casting of Robert Knepper as the baddie, probably because he physically resembles Lance Henriksen. Not that Knepper isn’t great in his own right, but the resemblance does give this sequel a sort of continuity to the earlier film.

Director Reine’s filmography is pretty rife with sequels to other people’s movies (or his own), but he’s notable (?) for directing the Connecticut-shot Seagal vehicle Pistol Whipped (2008) – also starring Lance Henriksen. Fun facts aside, Hard Target 2 is another in a long line of movies of this sort that include everything from Death Ring (1992) to Soldiers of Fortune (2012), and countless other examples. 

The action is there, Adkins is there, the production values are there – just a tad bit of originality would have gone a long way, because it’s not there. Linking this with the earlier Hard Target in viewers’ minds may have been shrewd, but another title might have been a better move. But that’s unlikely to have happened, because the sign on the door here is apparently, “no originality, no problem”.

Still, we should be happy this came out in the U.S. It seems like something that would be exclusively made for foreign markets. If you’re willing to forgive the almost impressive lack of originality here and just concentrate on the Adkins action, Hard Target 2 is certainly worth seeing.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett