Movie Review – In The Blood (2014)

In-The-Blood-Review-Logo

– Summary –

Director : John Stockwell
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Luis Guzman, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Stephen Lang, Danny Trejo, Amaury Nolasco, Treat Williams, Eloise Mumford, Paloma Louvat.
Approx Running Time :
Synopsis: When her husband goes missing during their Caribbean vacation, a woman sets off on her own to take down the men she thinks are responsible.
What we think : Bland, tension free exercise in brand management, In The Blood wastes much of its potential in inane plotting, silly 1-dimensional characters, and an incoherent action aesthetic that lacks punch. While I’m sure Gina Carano might be a fierce competitor in the ring, on film she comes off as hopelessly wooden, over-edited into the action, and lacking in presence. Skip it.

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It’s long been a sad state of affairs that our stable of cinematic heroes – specifically of the action variety – have, by a wide margin, tended to be dominated by men. Name me a dozen male action heroes from the last 20 years and you’ll have no trouble whatsoever. Try that with female stars, and you’ll struggle to list even a handful who have the pop-culture standing to be even worth remembering. It’s this factor which contributes somewhat to Stallone’s Expendables franchise being so testosterone-laden. While modern stars such as Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson appear in movies seemingly every other week, the lack of female action heroes on our screens is an imbalance that, frankly, needs to be addressed, and soon. Thankfully, though, Hollywood seems to be trying – former MMA star Gina Carano has attempted to make the transition to film, no doubt aided by her bruising, bashing fighting style and grim, determined-faced demeanor giving her a somewhat masculine femininity (is that even a thing?) to bridge the sexual gap between the Statham’s and the Stallone’s of the world, and the girls! In The Blood is a fairly transparent attempt to build Carano’s Hollywood “brand”, with her front-n-center for the entirety of the film as she smashes and crashes her way through the slums of Puerto Rico; does Carano make a solid action star we can enjoy, or is this film another Haywire, devoid of charisma, light on action, and lacking in quality?

Listen lady, I'm not gonna take any of your elbows to the face without a fight, okay?
Listen lady, I’m not gonna take any of your elbows to the face without a fight, okay?

Newlywed couple Ava (Gian Carano) and Derek Grant (Cam Gigandet) are honeymooning on an unnamed Caribbean Island, enjoying the sights and sounds of the locals and being escorted by friendly tour-guide Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova). After escaping from a club brawl with a few minor bruises, thanks to Ava’s childhood training to be a bad-ass by her weirdly pessimistic father (Stephen Lang), the couple go on a ziplining adventure high above the tropical rainforest of the island. However, when Derek’s restraint snaps, sending him plummeting to the ground below, Ava watches helplessly as he is driven away by ambulance – only he never makes it to hospital, leaving Ava stranded on the island with no idea what has become of her husband. Her father-in-law, Robert (Treat Williams) seems to think she’s after Derek’s inheritance, while local police chief Garza (Luis Guzman) seems indifferent to Ava’s pleadings. However, when Ava tracks down her husband’s location, and discovers a link to local crime kingpin Silvio (Amaury Nolasco), all hell breaks loose.

I swear, I look so much better with my clothes off...
I swear, I look so much better with my clothes off…

Any canny director knows that you have to play to your stars strengths. In the case of Gina Carano, those strengths are the ability to look tough while beating the absolute snot out of a bunch of brutish, gun-toting bad guys. As displayed in Soderbergh’s Haywire, which was a despicably over-marketed piece of non-action rubbish, Carano looks right at home swinging her fists, legs, elbows and head in the direction of those she must fight. Her limited role in Fast & Furious 6, where she played alongside Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel as a hard-hitting drug enforcement agent, showcased her natural physicality to inflict pain on her victims. Yet, in spite of her physical ability, Carano’s performance dramatically – even taking into account the B-grade nature of her projects thus far – leaves a lot to be desired.

Tell me again what you thought my face looked like?
Tell me again what you thought my face looked like?

In The Blood puts Carano right in front of the camera the entire time; her character is a loose clusterf@ck of half-baked ideas, generic action tropes and seedy violent-afterbirth scripting, the kind of cinematic shorthand audiences expect little of, and that critics often deride as low-fi film-making. Her character, Ava, is the female equivalent of the generic “former SAS operative” living the quiet life: brought up with a hard-ass father, played by blink-and-miss-it Stephen Lang, married into a wealthy family (who mistrust her motives, in a rather uncomfortable role for Treat Williams, looking for all the world like he’s only there to pay the rent) and who has… to borrow from a far superior film, a “particular set of skills” that make her highly dangerous. Yet, for all her skill in martial artistry, there’s a definite lack of ability in almost every other aspect of her performance. With one exception, Carano looks distinctly uncomfortable in front of the camera, like a rabbit in the headlights of a career move she is perhaps regretting – her one saving grace is her rather sweet ability to cry on cue, and although I felt the rest of the film had the passion of a tree-stump, at least she could cry over her missing husband. It’s just that whenever she opened her mouth to utter a line, it felt like some Amazon rainforest suddenly up and died to allow it.

Look, I just need to know if I can resurrect my career after this...
Look, I just need to know if I can resurrect my career after this…

No, this film wasn’t ever going to be an Oscar contender, nor was it even going to be simply a very good film; it’s an utterly generic, bland, by-the-numbers plot-device countdown that is precisely tension free to the point of boredom. With Carano lacking any screen presence, the film sputters madly through its somewhat ham-fisted “kidnapped tourist” plot until it turns into a run-and-gun shoot ’em up in the last act, the kind of Die Hard In A Village archetype that outlasts its own usefulness within about five minutes. It’s a film designed purely to showcase the skills of Carano, and even then that’s stretching it. She lacks the square-jawed determination and buried rage of Jason Statham, the raw hulking machismo of a Stallone, or the glint-in-the-eye simplicity of Chuck Norris… hell, perhaps if she had some kind of indistinguishable accent she might have made a good female Van Damme or Schwarzenegger, but she doesn’t, and the film suffers.

If I drop you, will you splat?
If I drop you, will you splat?

With the plot a bare-bones actioner that delivers scant thrills (a first act zipline sequence has shades of Cliffhanger about it, but lacks the same energy) the cast have to bear the brunt of this mess, and bear it they do. Carano aside, the film is almost salvaged by the winning performance of Ismael Cruz Cordova, as Manny, the “comedy relief” in a film devoid of much comedy at all. Whatever Treat Williams and Stephen Lang thought they were doing in this film is lost on me, their roles are so small, while Luis Guzman sleazes it up as a not-quite-honest police chief who stalls Ava’s quest to locate her husband. Danny Trejo uses his massive box-office clout to appear in two key moments of the film: one to portray himself as a selfish, misogynistic asshole, and another as the savior of all on the island, which is a character arc that makes no sense whatsoever. Carano’s leading man, however, is Cam Gigandet (who, from what I can see on the marketing for this film, can’t even make it to “name on poster” status these days!) as Derek, and although he’s missing from most of the film, actually does a solid job of counteracting Carano’s lack of talent with his own charming persona.

Do you guys get the point?
Do you guys get the point?

John Stockwell’s In The Blood is a witheringly obtuse affair that pretends to be something it patently isn’t. Led by the wooden Gina Carano, who is blessedly removed from having to talk for as long as possible, wherever possible, and with uninspired direction and a poorly developed script, this film just isn’t the career-maker Carano obviously hoped it might be. While I doubt she’ll ever be a screen icon in the same conversation as Norris, Stallone, Statham and company, it’s pleasing to see that at least Hollywood is trying to address the male/female ratio of stars in action films; it’s just a shame this film is so rubbish, because both Carano and us deserved better.

4-Star

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