Review: ‘Adverse,’ starring Thomas Nicholas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Sean Astin, Penelope Ann Miller and Mickey Rourke

April 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mickey Rourke and Thomas Nicholas in “Adverse” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Adverse”

Directed by Brian A. Metcalf

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the crime drama “Adverse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: An ex-con, who’s now a rideshare driver, goes on a vendetta rampage after his teenage sister is harmed because of a $20,000 debt she owes to a drug lord.

Culture Audience: “Adverse” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a violent movie and don’t care if it’s tacky and terrible.

Thomas Nicholas in “Adverse” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Adverse” is the type of rage-filled, mindless vendetta movie that’s so bad, it verges on parody. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself way too seriously to be considered something to laugh at, and the action scenes (the main attraction of the movie) are filmed in an amateurish way. There’s absolutely nothing original about this uninspiring movie that is ultimately a giant bore.

Written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf, the title of “Adverse” is a perfect way to describe what this movie is, when it comes to creating a memorable and entertaining movie. People who’ve seen plenty of action movies will immediately see that “Adverse” can’t even meet basic standards of suspense and exciting energy. The killings are done such a robotic way that they didn’t really need live actors for this movie. “Adverse” looks more like a tedious video game.

In “Adverse,” Ethan Locke (played by Thomas Nicholas, who is one of the film’s producers) is an ex-con in his late 30s or early 40s who’s trying to get his life back on track as a rideshare driver. The car that he uses for his job was given to him by his late mother Nicole (played by Penelope Ann Miller, in flashbacks), who was stricken with an unnamed terminal illness. Ethan is the legal guardian of his rebellious 16-year-old half-sister Mia Locke (played by Kelly Arjen), who has been hanging out with a druggie crowd.

Ethan and Mia have different fathers who are not in their lives. Mia’s father died years ago, while Ethan’s father abandoned the family when Ethan was young and hasn’t been in contact ever since. Ethan doesn’t even know if his father is dead or alive.

Ethan spent time in prison for armed robbery, but he turned his life around before his mother died, which is why he was able to get guardianship of Mia instead of her being put in the foster care system. As part of his parole requirements, Ethan meets regularly with Dr. Daniel Cruz (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), a clinical social services professional who tells Ethan that he wants to help him. However, Ethan is aloof in their meetings because he doesn’t seem to trust anyone who’s part of “the system.”

One day, Ethan comes home to his shabby apartment and finds Mia and three other people smoking dope in the living room: Lars (played by Jake T. Austin) is Mia’s drug-dealing boyfriend, and the other two party friends are sisters Chris McMillan (played by Shelley Regner) and Jessica McMillan (played by Ayla Kell). Ethan is on parole and can’t be around drug users, and he’s also concerned about Mia’s welfare, so he angrily orders Mia’s druggie pals to leave the apartment.

Mia isn’t happy about it and she tells Ethan that she’s probably going to drop out of high school. Ethan says that he could lose custody of Mia and she could be put in foster care, but she yells at him that it doesn’t matter because at least she wouldn’t have to answer to him anymore. Their arguing is cliché, and it’s at this point you know that Mia’s rebelliousness will bring trouble to the family.

Ethan also doesn’t approve of Lars because he suspects that Lars has been abusive to Mia. And Ethan is right. There are some flashback memories that Mia has that shows how Lars bullies her and physically roughs her up. But like a lot of people in abusive relationships, Mia is too scared to end the relationship.

And speaking of relationships, Ethan has a mild flirtation going with his next-door neighbor Chloe (played by Kate Katzman), who just happens to look like a bombshell blonde actress. Since this movie takes place in Los Angeles, having a neighbor who looks like Chloe isn’t entirely far-fetched. But since “Adverse” only portrays females in this movie as eye candy and/or damsels in distress, no one should be surprised that the “Adverse” filmmakers make Chloe a very superficial, two-dimensional character.

One night, Ethan gets a rideshare customer named Kaden Stern (played by Mickey Rourke), who says that his job is lending people money. But Kaden is more than a loan shark. He’s also a murderous drug lord who doesn’t hesitate to have people killed if they can’t pay their debts to him.

But Ethan doesn’t know at first that Kaden is really a drug boss. While Ethan drives Kaden to his destination, Kaden asks Ethan if he’s looking for a full-time job. Ethan says no, because he’s a full-time rideshare driver, which is a job that he likes because “I work when I want.” Of course, this won’t be the last that Kaden and Ethan see of each other.

Kaden has various henchmen doing a lot of dirty work for him, including a small-time drug dealer named Dante (played by “Adverse” director Metcalf), who’s also a cocaine addict. Dante is tasked with being a “middle man” who collects the debts that people owe to Kaden. In the movie, Dante is shown only in a back room of a sleazy club called The Velvet Room, as if he has nowhere else to be. or because this low-budget film couldn’t be bothered to do anything creative with its set design.

It should come as no surprise that Mia and Lars are among the people in debt to Kaden. One night, Mia confesses to Kaden that she and Lars owe $20,000 to Dante. According to what Mia says, she and Lars originally borrowed $10,000 to run away together and start their own business. But instead, they used to money to buy drugs. And with interest added to their debt, their total debt is $20,000.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Ethan to hear this news. He’s been suspended from his rideshare job after getting false complaints from two customers—one who accused him of overcharging, and the other who accused him of sexual harassment. Ethan’s boss Frankie (played by Sean Astin) tells him that Ethan won’t get the $10,000 salary owed to him until the outcome of the company investigation into these complaints.

But since this is a silly movie about an ex-con on a rampage, Ethan storms into Frankie’s office and uses physical intimidation get the $10,000. And conveniently, Frankie has all of the $10,000 in cash right at his desk, and he quickly and fearfully hands over the cash to Ethan. And because Mia told Ethan where to find Dante, the next thing you know, Ethan barrels his way into the back of The Velvet Room, and growls at Dante to take the $10,000 and consider Mia’s debt paid in full.

But if things ended there, there would be no “Adverse” movie. Through a series of circumstances, Mia is kidnapped, and Ethan goes in full-on, crazy vigilante mode. Along the way, he encounters three more goons who are in Kaden’s inner circle: Jake (played by Matt Ryan), who’s a ruthless Brit; Jan (played by Andrew Keegan), who’s a typical scuzzy lowlife; and Kyle (played by Luke Edwards), who’s a stuttering, simple-minded thug.

The acting in this movie is all over the place (and not in a good way), ranging from stiffly empty to melodramatic garbage. There’s a heavy-handed musical score from Alex Kharlamov that’s very mismatched and self-important, because it sounds like it’s supposed to be for a major adventure epic instead of what this movie really is: B-movie schlock.

There are fight scenes where you can literally see the fake punches that aren’t really hitting anyone and the cartoonishly overwrought sound effects added in later. And there are continuity and editing problems in the chase scenes. For example, someone is seen being chased by someone else who’s right behind (less than a foot away), but then a split second later in the same scene, the person doing the chasing is several feet away. It’s physically impossible, and this isn’t a sci-fi movie were someone has the ability to teleport. But really, it’s all such sloppy filmmaking.

As the chief villain Kaden, Rourke isn’t doing anything that he hasn’t done before in his other recent movies where he usually plays a villain. In fact, Rourke seems so bored and jaded with the role that you could have propped up a wax dummy and used visual effects to get more life out of the performance. Nicholas’ Ethan character shows glimmers of humanity in the beginning of the movie, but by the end of the film, Ethan is a not-very-believable killing machine who uses only a tire iron to slaughter a bunch of people. And don’t be fooled by the top billing that Phillips, Miller and Astin get for this movie, because the “Adverse” screen time for these three actors is about five minutes each.

“Adverse” might be entertaining to people who have anger issues and like to see dimwitted movies about a vigilante going on a vicious murder spree in a story that ultimately goes nowhere. But “Adverse” doesn’t even try to have any creativity whatsoever in the action scenes. And just like the body count that generically piles up in the movie, “Adverse” will be relegated to the disposable pile of deadweight movies with no soul and nothing to say.

Arcangelo Entertainment released “Adverse” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. Lionsgate released “Adverse” on digital, VOD and DVD on March 9, 2021.