Review: ‘Jiu Jitsu,’ starring Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa and Nicolas Cage

April 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage and Alain Moussi in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu”

Directed by Dimitri Logothetis

Culture Representation: Taking place in Burma, the sci-fi action film “Jiu Jitsu” features a cast of white and Asian characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, mercenaries and U.S. military officials.

Culture Clash: Several human beings battle a death warrior from outer space who comes to Earth every six years from comet-created space portal. 

Culture Audience: “Jiu Jitsu” will appeal primarily to people interested in sci-fi action movies that are interior imitations of “The Predator” movie franchise.

JuJu Chan in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu” has nothing to do with the martial arts craft of jiu jitsu, just like this movie has nothing to do with high-quality entertainment. It’s just a messy parade of sci-fi action schlock with tacky visual effects. It also blatantly rips off elements of “The Predator” movie franchise.

Dimitri Logothetis, a filmmaker of hack action movies, directed the mind-numbing “Jiu Jitsu,” which really is nothing but corny fight scenes strung together with abysmal dialogue, all lumbering along until the very predictable ending. Logothetis co-wrote the horrific screenplay with James “Jim” McGrath. “Jiu Jitsu” could have easily been a short film, but it’s dragged out to tedious levels because of repetitive battle scenes.

The gist of the flimsy story is that a mysterious, muscle-bound American man named Jake (played by Alain Moussi) finds himself at the center of an intergalactic battle that has been taking place on Earth for centuries. Every six years, a comet opens up a portal on Earth. A death warrior named Brax emerges from the portal to fight a group of humans who call themselves Jiu Jitsus. Their Jiu Jitsu leader is “the chosen one” who must fight Brax, or else everyone and everything on Earth will be killed.

Jake is first seen in “Jiu Jitsu” running frantically in a forest in Burma, as if something is chasing him. (“Jiu Jitsu” was actually filmed in Cyprus.) Jake falls over a cliff and plunges into a large body of water. A middle-aged fisherman (played by Raymond Pinharry) and his wife (played by Mary Makariou), who don’t have names in the movie, rescue Jake and gives some medical attention to his wounds.

It’s soon apparent that Jake has amnesia. The fisherman’s wife takes him to a nearby U.S. Army camp. The commanding officer in charge is a stern and impatient leader named Captain Hickman (played by played by John Hickman), who orders a buffoonish subordinate named Tex (played by Eddie Steeples) to act as a translator. Tex isn’t very fluent in Burmese, so he predictably botches some of the translating.

That’s when the fisherman’s wife tells them about the cosmic portal and the outer-space death warrior, whom she calls Dat Daw Taung. These Army guys think is just a bunch of rambling gibberish from a superstitious person. Of course, there would be no “Jiu Jitsu” movie if what she was saying didn’t turn out to be true.

Soon, Jake finds himself being interrogated by an Army intelligence officer named Mya (played by Marie Avgeropoulos), a no-nonsense type who doesn’t know what to believe when Rick says that he has no idea who he is and what he’s doing there, but later he has a vague recollection: “I’m here to do a job.” Mya thinks that Jake might be some type of spy. He’s held captive until the Army figures out what to do with him.

While Jake is in captivity, another captive breaks free from the prison compound. His name is Kueng (played by Tony Jaa), and he insists that Jake go with him. They run off into a field together. And lo and behold, emerging from the field, like beanstalks suddenly spurting upward from the grass, are three other “warriors”: tough-talking Harrigan (played by Frank Grillo), quiet Forbes (played by Marrese Crump) and courageous Carmen (played by JuJu Chan), who not surprisingly ends up in a thrown-together romance with Jake.

And so, off these five “warriors” go as they kick, punch and wield weapons (such as swords, guns and knives), with an Army leader named Captain Sand (played by Rick Yune) in hot pursuit. The five renegades inevitably encounter Brax (played by Ryan Tarran), who quickly heals from any wounds, thereby making him hard to kill.

Brax is dressed in scaly armor and has a full-sized helmet that shows light blue space where a face should be. Occasionally, outlines of eyes and other facial features show up in this blue space, using cheap-looking visual effects. Brax’s point of view is shown a few times as X-ray vision that looks like it’s bathed in a heat glow. It’s a direct ripoff of Predator’s vision from the “Predator” movies.

Nicolas Cage shows up 39 minutes into the 102-minute “Jiu Jitsu,” which is just another B-movie where he plays yet another unhinged, eccentric character. In “Jiu Jitsu,” Cage is a wilderness-dwelling loner named Wylie, who ends up joining Jake and his team. Wylie seems to know quite a bit about Brax and gives advice, much of it unsolicited and sometimes unheeded. In his spare time, Wylie likes to make triangular hats out of newspapers. These hats are not the cone-shaped head coverings that used to be called “dunce caps” in the old days, although “dunce caps” would not be out of place in this dimwitted movie.

Cage’s total screen time in “Jiu Jitsu” is only about 15 to 20 minutes, but he does have one battle scene with Drax that seems to be the main reason why Cage was hired for this movie. Cage gives a deliberately hammy performance that’s meant to show he knows he’s in a stinker of a movie. However, his comedic self-awareness just seems out of place in a movie where all the other cast members act like they’re in a serious action film. If Cage is openly smirking, it might be because “Jiu Jitsu” was an easy multimillion-dollar salary for him. The joke is on the “Jiu Jitsu” producers who forked over the money for a rehashed and unoriginal performance that Cage has done in dozens of his forgettable action flicks.

Sometimes, when an action movie doesn’t care about having a good story, intriguing characters or memorable dialogue, the movie makes up for this lack of appeal with dazzling action scenes. That’s not the case with “Jiu Jitsu,” which is filled with nothing but unimaginative fight sequences. None of the movie’s characters has an interesting story, although “Jiu Jitsu” tries to throw in a “plot twist/reveal” about the background of one of the characters. This “plot twist/reveal,” which is toward the end of the movie, is not surprising at all. The only thing surprising about “Jiu Jitsu” is that filmmakers actually thought that this abominable garbage wouldn’t be such a flop.

The Avenue Entertainment released “Jiu Jitsu” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 20, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD on December 22, 2020. “Jiu Jitsu” is also available on Netflix.

Review: ‘Shattered’ (2022), starring Cameron Monaghan, Frank Grillo, Lilly Krug and John Malkovich

February 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Frank Grillo, Cameron Monaghan and Lilly Krug in “Shattered” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Shattered” (2022)

Directed by Luis Prieto

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Colorado, the dramatic film “Shattered” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with two African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A tech multimillionaire gets in a sexual relationship with an alluring young woman and finds out that she has sinister intentions for him.

Culture Audience: “Shattered” will appeal mainly to people who like watching tacky crime thrillers.

John Malkovich in “Shattered” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Trashy and utterly predictable, “Shattered” dumbs down all the stereotypes of a murderous female sociopath who seduces an unlucky lover. John Malkovich’s campy performance as a creepy voyeur can’t even save this mess. Malkovich has a supporting role in this formulaic dud of a movie, which he helped finance, since he’s one of the producers of “Shattered.” There used to be a time when Oscar-nominated Malkovich was known for his edgy roles in artsy movies. And now, he’s reduced to making B-movie garbage.

Directed by Luis Prieto and written by David Loughery, “Shattered” has trailers (red-band and green-band) that give away 90% of what happens in the film’s plot. The only thing that’s not shown in the “Shattered” trailers is who survives and who’s dead at the end of the movie. But even the deaths are very easy to predict.

Loughery has a history of writing schlock movies about people being terrorized by deranged killers who at first appear to be friendly: His six previous movies are 2008’s “Lakeview Terrace,” 2009’s “Obsessed,” 2013’s “Blindsided,” 2013’s “Nurse,” 2019’s “The Intruder” and 2020’s “Fatale.” All of them end exactly how you think they’re going to end.

“Shattered” has a concept that’s very similar to “Fatale.” Both movies are a ripoff of the “Fatal Attraction” template: A married man gets involved with a seductive woman, who turns out to be a ruthless psycho, and she’s out for bloody revenge when she doesn’t get what she wants.

At least “Fatale” made some effort to have a few surprise twists, even if the ending was a foregone conclusion. There are absolutely no real surprises in “Shattered,” especially if you’ve seen the trailer before watching the movie. Even the movie title “Shattered” is unimaginative and lazy.

The married man in “Shattered” is actually close to getting divorced. He just hasn’t signed the paperwork yet. He’s a retired tech multimillionaire named Chris Decker (played by Cameron Monaghan), who lives in seclusion in a sleek mansion somewhere in the Colorado mountains. (“Shattered” was actually filmed in Montana.)

The movie’s opening scene shows Chris in a video chat with his estranged wife Jamie Decker (woodenly played by Sasha Luss), as they discuss their impending divorce. Chris and Jamie have an adopted daughter named Willow (played by Ridley Asha Bateman), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Jamie and Chris both adore Willow very much. It’s not mentioned how long Chris and Jamie have been separated, but Jamie has full custody of Willow, while Chris has visitation rights.

During this conversation, Chris says remorsefully to Jamie: “I should’ve fought harder to keep us together.” Later, it’s revealed that Chris founded a tech company that he sold for millions, and he retired from working. But his financial success came at a cost to his marriage, because Jamie says that Chris cared more about the company than saving the marriage. Chris tells Jamie that he only sold his company for the money.

Chris now has a lot of time on his hands, but it’s too late, because Jamie and Willow no longer live with him. Chris’ regret over how his marriage ended is the main reason why he hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Jamie tells Chris that it’s time for both of them to move on with their lives. And so, Chris finally agrees to sign the divorce papers and says he’ll talk to a lawyer they know named Kendall about it.

After she gets off of the phone with Chris, Jamie is seen talking to Willow, who is an adorable and perceptive child. Willow tells Jamie that she misses Chris. Jamie tells Willow that people can love each other but not be together. This opening scene is less than five minutes long, and it’s as far as the movie goes in showing a backstory for any of the characters.

The movie vaguely describes Chris as a security technology expert. Therefore, his mansion is supposed to be decked out in a lot of the latest security systems. It’s all for nothing though, because Chris lets someone into his life who turns out to be a homicidal menace who wants to steal his fortune.

Her name is Skyler “Sky” Webb (played by Lilly Krug), who appears to be a sweet and innocent college-aged woman when Chris meets her one evening while he’s shopping at a grocery store, and she asks him to recommend a bottle of wine. The movie has a clunky and not-very-believable way of explaining why multimillionaire Chris does all of his own grocery shopping: He’s such a recluse, he doesn’t have any servants.

But why then doesn’t “reclusive tech whiz” Chris do any of his grocery shopping online or call to place orders for delivery? Don’t expect any logical answers in “Shattered,” because it’s the type of movie that has too many unanswered questions and illogical plot holes. And if Chris were as smart as he thinks he is, he wouldn’t have been so easily fooled by Sky. Chris and Sky exchange flirty looks during their conversation, and then they go their separate ways.

Outside of the grocery store, Chris sees Sky looking anxious. She explains to him that her Uber ride cancelled her appointment. Without hesitation, Chris offers Sky a ride to her home. Is it bad judgment to offer a ride to a total stranger or accept a ride from a total stranger under these circumstances? Of course. But people do it a lot in real life, and movies like “Shattered” wouldn’t exist if everyone used good judgment.

During this drive, Sky says that she and her roommate, whom she calls “Loony Lisa,” had an argument, so Sky is reluctant to go back to her apartment. Chris, who’s clearly attracted to Sky, then invites Sky to spend the night at his place. Sky appears to be reluctant and says no at first, but then she says yes.

After Chris shows Sky a little bit of his mansion (including his wine cellar, because he says he’s a “wine nerd”), he asks her what she does for a living. Sky says that she’s a model, but she has a night job working at a bar whose name she mentions in the conversation. Chris and Sky hook up, and their steamy affair begins.

After spending the night with Chris, Sky goes back to her place, which is a shabby apartment building that looks like it used to be a motel. The building’s owner/landlord is a weirdo named Ronald (played by Malkovich), who happens to live right next door to Sky and her roommate Lisa (played by Ash Santos), who are two weeks’ behind on their rent. It’s later revealed that Lisa has been living there for eight years, while Sky moved in more recently. Ronald tells Lisa, “You were happier before Sky moved in … I’m not only your landlord. I’m your friend.”

Ronald’s proximity to Sky and Lisa allows him to easily spy on them. When Lisa comes home, he knows she spent the night elsewhere. Ronald looks through the window and says with disgust, “Walk of shame!” He’s by himself when he utters this remark, which is the first sign that Ronald talks out loud to himself when he’s alone.

Ronald also shows his disdain for Sky when he warns her about not paying the rent: “Don’t play games with me. I’m not the kind of man you want to trifle with.” When he makes this threat, Ronald holds up a rose and makes a lewd licking gesture with his tongue—in case it wasn’t clear enough that Ronald is a sleazy jerk.

Lisa is upset that Sky spent the night somewhere without saying where she was. Ronald is annoyed that Sky doesn’t seem to care about the unpaid rent. Sky brushes off Lisa and Ronald, as if she can’t be bothered with them. Why? Because her plan has already been set in motion to get Chris’ money.

Because Sky deliberately didn’t give Chris her phone number, he tracks her down at the bar where she works. And that’s when he tells her that he’s about to be divorced and that he’s a father of a daughter who visits him on a regular basis. She admits to him that she lied to him about coming from a gypsy family. Sky says that she actually grew up in foster care and she thinks of herself as “damaged goods.” Chris says he was raised by his parents, but “they weren’t there for me.” This sob story exchange about their childhoods seems to make Chris feel a deeper bond to Sky.

One night, Sky and Chris are out on a date when they see a man trying to break into Chris’ car in the parking lot. Chris attempts to stop the man, who has a crowbar and viciously beats Chris and then runs away. The assault leaves Chris with a broken right leg and other injuries that require him to use a wheelchair or crutches to move around.

After he gets discharged from the hospital, guess who Chris decides is going to be his live-in nurse, even though she has no medical experience? It isn’t long before Chris tells Sky that he’s in love with her. Because Chris is on various medications for his injuries, she jokes in response: “It’s the drugs.”

Chris finds out that Sky is up to no good is when he sees on the local TV news that her roommate Lisa was found murdered in their apartment and that the police are looking for Sky. When he asks Sky about it, she nonchalantly confesses that she was the one who murdered Lisa, who was not only her roommate but also her lover. (None of this is spoiler information, because it’s all in the movie’s red-band trailer.) And then all hell breaks loose.

The trailer for “Shattered” also reveals that Sky knows the man who beat up Chris because the assault was all a set-up masterminded by Sky. The attacker’s name is Kiju (played by Dat Phan), and he pays a visit to Sky in Chris’ home, after Chris finds out that Sky targeted him to get his money. Jonathan discovers that Sky is now living with Chris, so he goes to Chris’ mansion too, because Sky owes him money, and Jonathan wants to see how he can get money from this millionaire too. You can easily guess what happens to Jonathan.

Another cohort of Sky’s shows up in the last third of the movie. His name is Sebastian (played by Frank Grillo), who is not only her stepfather but he’s also Sky’s lover. Chris meets Sebastian when Chris almost escapes outside, and Sebastian pretends to be a Good Samaritan who picks Chris up in his car. When Sebastian hands Chris his phone to call for help, Chris finds out that Sebastian had really called Sky, and Sebastian has driven back to the mansion, where Sky is waiting for them. (Again, this plot twist is in the movie’s trailer.)

“Shattered” has a relatively small number of people in the movie’s cast. And since there’s a limited number of characters who are expected to live or die in the movie, it’s only a matter of time when Jamie and Willow show up at the mansion for a pre-arranged visit. They’re in for a shock when they find out that Chris is being held hostage. Who gets killed and what happens when Jamie and Willow show up are really the only parts of the movie’s plot that aren’t revealed in the trailers for “Shattered.”

One of the biggest problems with the movie, besides the terrible screenplay and direction, is that the performances are incompatible. Krug, Grillo and Malkovich ham it up, as if they know they’re in a cheesy B-movie and can’t take anything too seriously. Meanwhile, Monaghan and Luss are dead-serious and act as if they think they’re in a Hitchcock masterpiece. When a movie’s acting is this inconsistent, the fault ultimately lies with the director, who didn’t correct this problem while filming the movie.

But even if “Shattered” had Oscar-caliber acting, it still couldn’t erase how creatively bankrupt everything else is in the film. Sometimes, tawdry and predictable thrillers can be fun to watch if the tone is right and the characters are engaging. “Shattered” has none of those qualities and is empty and forgettable as the movie’s entire story.

Lionsgate released “Shattered” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 14, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on February 22, 2022.

Review: ‘The Gateway’ (2021), starring Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, Frank Grillo and Bruce Dern

December 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shea Whigham and Olivia Munn in “The Gateway” (Photo by Antony Platt/Lionsgate)

“The Gateway” (2021)

Directed by Michele Civetta

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “The Gateway” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A well-meaning bachelor, who works for a city’s social services department, finds himself caught up in criminal warfare when he tries to protect a mother and her young daughter after the child’s father gets out of prison.

Culture Audience: “The Gateway” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in forgettable and formulaic crime dramas.

Shannon Adawn and Frank Grillo in “The Gateway” (Photo by Antony Platt/Lionsgate)

“The Gateway” is such a generic and unimaginative rehash of many other crime dramas, it’s likely to be soon forgotten after people see it. It’s yet another story about a hero who has an “against all odds” struggle against gangster thugs. In “The Gateway,” the protagonist does battle against drug-dealing goons, in order to save (cliché alert) a damsel in distress and her child. It’s all very hackneyed and boring. There’s absolutely nothing creative about this movie, which lumbers along until its very predictable end.

“The Gateway” was directed by Michele Civetta, who co-wrote the drab screenplay with Alex Felix Bendaña and Andrew Levitas. The movie is Civetta’s second feature film as a director. His feature-film directorial debut was the unremarkable 2020 horror flick “Agony,” which describes what any viewer might have felt if they watched that painfully dull film. And although Civetta says in “The Gateway” production notes that “The Gateway” was inspired by crime thrillers such as John Huston’s “Fat City” (released in 1972) and John Cassavetes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (released in 1976), “The Gateway” has none of the intrigue or style of those films.

The name of the U.S. city where “The Gateway” takes place is never shown or mentioned by the characters in the movie, which was actually filmed in Norfolk, Virginia. Wherever “The Gateway” is supposed to take place, it’s a city where gambling is legal, because the “damsel in distress” is a blackjack dealer in a casino. She’s not the movie’s protagonist though. The story’s main character is yet another stereotype of a “regular Joe” who suddenly has to battle gangsters as if he’s an experienced member of law enforcement. Yawn.

The protagonist of “The Gateway” is Parker (played by Shea Whigham), a lonely middle-aged bachelor whose life revolves around his job working as an investigator for the city’s social services department. In the movie’s opening scene, viewers see that Parker is compassionate when he responds to a complaint about child endangerment in a house that’s basically a drug den. Parker finds a boy at the house who’s about 7 years old, and he comforts the boy when it’s discovered that the boy’s mother has overdosed. Two men in the house are then arrested.

For an unspecified period of time, Parker has been looking out for another child named Ashley (played by Taegen Burns), who’s about 12 years old. His interest in Ashley extends beyond his social worker job. He has become somewhat of a father figure to Ashley, whose father has been in prison for an untold number of years. Ashley’s mother Dahlia (played by Olivia Munn) has been raising Ashley while Dahlia holds down a job as a blackjack dealer.

Viewers never see any flashbacks of how Parker became close to this family, so the relationship that he has with Dahlia and Ashley feels too rushed and contrived in this movie. As an example of how Parker goes beyond his social worker duties for Ashley, Parker volunteers to take Ashley to school when he’s needed. It’s hinted that maybe Parker is attracted to Dahlia, but he doesn’t cross the line into making any inappropriate and unprofessional moves on her.

Dahlia might have a substance abuse problem, because the reason why Parker takes Ashley to school in an early scene in the movie is because she seems to be drunk or high, and Parker doesn’t want Dahlia to drive under the influence. The dynamics between Parker, Dahlia and Ashley change when Ashley’s father Mike (played by Zach Avery) gets out of prison and makes it clear to Parker that Mike wants to be the only father figure in Ashley’s life.

Soon after Mike get out of prison, he goes right back into a criminal lifestyle. At a bar frequented by shady people, Mike meets up with a local drug kingpin named Duke (played by Frank Grillo, in yet another one of his “tough guy” roles) to set up a heroin deal. Mike tells Duke and Duke’s associate Louis (played by Alexander Wraith) that Mike knows about two bricks of heroin that were stolen from a Mexican drug cartel.

Mike offers to deliver this heroin to Duke. In exchange, Duke says that he will set Mike and Louis up with enough money for Mike and Louis to open their own bar. Duke also offers to lend out the services of his henchman Hector (played by Mounir Quazzani) to help Mike and Louis for protection in retrieving this heroin, which is hidden in a place that could be guarded.

“The Gateway,” which already has a very simple-minded plot that would barely be enough for a short film, stretches everything out to tedious levels with repetitious scenes of Mike and his cronies committing crimes; Mike and Dahlia having tensions in their already shaky relationship; and Mike threatening Parker to stay away from Ashley. Parker was assigned to check on the welfare of Ashley, so he tells Mike that it would be up to the city to decide when Parker will no longer have to check up on her.

This movie is so poorly written that it does little to show who Parker is as a person. The only thing about his personal life that’s shown is that he has a rocky relationship with his father Marcus (played by Bruce Dern), because (as shown in flashbacks) Marcus was a verbally abusive alcoholic to Parker when Parker was a child. In fact, all of the characters in the movie don’t have much depth or personality. They’re just hollow vessels to act out the movie’s unimpressive action scenes. Two police detectives named Detective Vaughn (played by Shannon Adawn) and Detective Bachman (played by Nick Daly) are essentially useless, since this movie is about making Parker the biggest hero.

Needless to say in a predictable movie like “The Gateway,” Parker, Dahlia and Ashley unwittingly get caught up in Mike’s big heroin deal when the heroin stash goes missing. Expect the usual chase scenes and shootouts that clog up substandard thrillers such as “The Gateway.” The cast members and the filmmakers don’t put much effort into bringing any creative spark to this tired story. With all the better-quality movies that have already been made about drug deals gone bad, viewers don’t have to waste their time on “The Gateway.”

Lionsgate released “The Gateway” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 7, 2021.

Review: ‘Copshop’ (2021), starring Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo

September 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Frank Grillo (center) in “Copshop” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Copshop” (2021)

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Gun Creek, Nevada, the action film “Copshop” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A con artist, who has landed in jail for assaulting a cop, finds out that more than one person in the jail is out to kill him because of his past alliance with a murdered district attorney.

Culture Audience: “Copshop” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo and like seeing a movie with a badly conceived story and a lot of unrealistic violence.

Gerard Butler in “Copshop” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Copshop” can’t decide if it wants to be a gritty action flick or a wacky crime comedy. The result is that this creatively bankrupt film is an incoherent mess. The dialogue is awful, the acting is mediocre, and it’s just a time-wasting excuse to be a “shoot ’em up” flick with a nonsensical plot. Directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the “Copshop” screenplay with Kurt McLeod, “Copshop” is filled with lazy tropes that a lot of audiences dislike about mindless, violent movies.

“Copshop” over-relies on these tiresome clichés: Characters sustain major injuries that would put them in a hospital, but then these same characters miraculously move around less than an hour later as if they’ve got nothing but bruises. People draw guns on each other with the intent to kill, but then they spend a ridiculous amount of time giving dumb speeches or trading insults instead of shooting. And worst of all: “Copshop” constantly plays tricks on viewers about who’s really dead and who’s really alive.

All of that might be excused if the action scenes were imaginative, if the storylines were exciting and/or if the characters’ personalities were appealing. But most of the principal characters in “Cop Shop” are hollow and forgettable. The fight scenes are monotonous and nothing that fans of action flicks haven’t already seen in much better movies.

“Copshop” takes place in the fictional Nevada city of Gun Creek, which is in the middle of a desert. (“Copshop” was actually filmed in New Mexico and Georgia.) Gun Creek is a fairly small city, which is why there are only about six or seven cops on duty at the Gun Creek Police Department’s headquarters, where most of the action takes place when the police department goes under siege one night. You know a movie is bad when guns and bombs are going off in a police department, and yet the cops are too stupid to try to call for help immediately.

Nothing about this police department and its jail looks authentic. Before the chaos breaks out, everything is too neat, too quiet and too clean in the cops’ office space and in the jail. In other words, everything looks like a movie set. This phoniness just lowers the quality of this already lowbrow movie.

And the cinematography went overboard in trying to make the jail look “edgy,” because it’s too dark inside. And yet the jail cells are spotless. Jail cells aren’t supposed to look like a sleek underground nightclub. This movie is such a bad joke.

The gist of the moronic story is that Theodore “Teddy” Morretto (played by Frank Grillo) is a con artist who’s on the run from an assassin. In one part of the movie, Teddy describes himself as some kind of power broker who likes to introduce powerful people to each other and help fix their problems. He doesn’t like to call himself a “fixer” though. He likes to call himself a “manufacturer.”

One of the people whom Teddy had past dealings with was an attorney general named Fenton (played by Dez), who has been murdered. This crime has made big news in the area. Because of information that Teddy knows, he figures that he’s next on the hit list of whoever wanted Fenton dead.

In case it wasn’t clear that someone wants Teddy to be killed, a flashback scene shows that a bomb was set in Teddy’s car, it exploded, and he barely escaped with his life. His clothes caught on fire, but then later in the story, there’s no mention of him having the kind of burn injuries that he would’ve gotten from the types of flames spread on his body. It’s just sloppy screenwriting on display.

Teddy has come up with a plan to hide out for a while. He deliberately gets himself arrested because he thinks he’ll be “safer” in jail. Teddy disrupts a nighttime wedding reception at a casino, where a brawl is happening outdoors. When the police show up, Teddy assaults one of the cops and literally pleads for a cop to use a taser on him.

The cop who obliges his request is rookie Valerie Young (played by Alexis Louder), who is measured and sarcastic in her interactions with people. On the same night that Teddy is hauled into the police station and put in a jail cell, an anonymous drunk man who has no identification is also arrested and put in the jail cell across from Teddy. The other man got arrested because he crashed his car into a highway fence, right in front of two patrol officers who were parked nearby.

It turns out (and this isn’t spoiler information) that this other arrestee is really an assassin named Bob Viddick (played by Gerard Butler), who is somewhat of a legend among the criminals in Nevada. Somehow, Bob found out that Teddy was in the police department’s jail, and he got himself arrested because he’s been assigned to murder Teddy. And just so you know how incompetent this police department is, Bob has smuggled a gun into the jail cell.

The rest of “Copshop” is literally a bunch of shootouts, as the police station goes under siege when another assassin shows up. He’s a lunatic gangster named Anthony Lamb (played by Toby Huss), and he wants to kill Teddy, Bob and everyone else in the building, except for a corrupt cop who has access to a large haul of confiscated drugs that Anthony wants. This criminal cop is named Huber (played by Ryan O’Nan), and he owes Anthony a lot of money.

Huber is one of the cops in charge of the inventory/evidence at the police department. Huber plans to steal several bricks of what looks like cocaine, in order to pay off his debts to Anthony. It’s a dumb plan because this police department is so small that it would be easy to figure out who took the drug stash.

Huber already looks suspicious, because he’s been sweaty and acting nervous all night. Here’s an example of the movie’s terrible dialogue. When a fellow cop notices that Huber has been acting furtive and preoccupied with the inventory room, he asks Huber, “What’s got you so curious?” Huber replies, “Curiosity.”

Rookie cop Valerie is telegraphed early on as the one who will be the movie’s big hero. But she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. When she looks up Teddy’s criminal record, she’s astonished to see that he’s been arrested 22 times but no charges were ever filed against him. “How does that happen?” she asks a fellow cop in the office. Can you say “confidential informant,” Valerie?

Despite being saddled with a horrible script, Louder’s wisecracking depiction of Valerie is one of the few things that can be considered close to a highlight of “Copshop.” The other is the nutty performance of Huss as mobster Anthony, who is a scene stealer. How unhinged is Anthony? He starts singing in the middle of the mayhem. “Copshop” uses Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 hit “Freddie’s Dead” has a recurring song in more than one scene.

However, there’s nothing about any of the characters in the movie that can be considered outstanding enough for audiences to be clamoring for a sequel. Butler and Grillo are two of the producers of “Copshop,” so they’re partially to blame for how this embarrassing schlock turned out, but Carnahan (also a “Copshop” producer) is the one who’s chiefly responsible. It’s not the first time they’ve done these types of unimpressive B-movies, and it won’t be the last time.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment will release “Copshop” in U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021. The movie had a one-night-only sneak preview in U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2021.

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist, xenophobic and arrogant Interpol agent from the U.S. named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an effect on how people perceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.

Review: ‘No Man’s Land’ (2021), starring Jake Allyn, Frank Grillo, Jorge A. Jimenez, Alex MacNicoll, Andie MacDowell and George Lopez

February 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jake Allyn in “No Man’s Land” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“No Man’s Land” (2021)

Directed by Conor Allyn

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the dramatic film “No Man’s Land” features a cast of white and Latino people representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A white teenage son of a Texas rancher shoots and kills a Mexican immigrant boy and flees to Mexico as a fugitive, while a Texas Ranger who’s a Mexican American goes in hot pursuit to capture him.

Culture Audience: “No Man’s Land” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching idiotic “chase movies” that have an offensive tone of white supremacy.

George Lopez in “No Man’s Land” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

There’s a cliché that says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That saying could apply to the atrocious dramatic film “No Man’s Land.” The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” say the movie is their way of trying to heal racial rifts among white Americans and Mexican Latinos, in a political climate where the Mexican/U.S. border wall has been used as a controversial symbol of people’s views on immigration in the United States.

If the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers had intentions of healing the harm done by racism, it didn’t work with this movie. In fact, “No Man’s Land” is tone-deaf schlock that actually has more than a whiff of white supremacy and racist beliefs. The film’s Mexican characters are written as expendable, not very smart, and pawns for whatever the white characters want, while the white characters are elevated as having more valuable lives, being more intelligent, and more deserving of redemption.

“No Man’s Land” was directed by Conor Allyn and written by his younger brother Jake Allyn (one of the stars of the movie) and David Barraza. As explained in the movie’s prologue, the movie’s title is named after the No Man’s Land area that’s the gap between the Texas border fences and the Mexican land that’s north of the Rio Grande. The movie takes place in Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas.

Conor Allyn made a very pretentious director’s statement in the “No Man’s Land” production notes. The statement reads in part: “In a time of great fear, we wanted to make a film about hope. The world is growing apart. Xenophobia and prejudice are abundant, millions clamor for walls to divide, yet there is still time to unite. But first we must recognize the borders within ourselves. And cross it.”

Conor Allyn continues in the statement: “But change does not come without pain. Our characters have to experience, and inflict, enormous pain in order to make a transformation. And in doing so, they are able to cross that border within themselves. And we hope that the audience does the same.”

The characters might inflict some pain on each other, but viewers of “No Man’s Land” will have some pain inflicted on them if they have to sit through this horrible onslaught of bad moviemaking. Be prepared to possibly have some brain cells damaged by the stupidity of it all. It’s not just that the filmmakers ineptly mishandled racism issues in this movie, but it’s also a terrible chase movie with insipid and unrealistic scenes.

In “No Man’s Land,” Jake Allyn portrays Jackson Greer, who lives with his family on a Texas ranch in an unnamed city that’s near the Mexican border. Jackson is in his late teens and is about to enroll in an unnamed New York City college on a baseball scholarship. Jackson’s rancher father Bill Greer (played by Frank Grillo) is more excited than Jackson is about Jackson getting a college education and possibly becoming a baseball star.

Jackson would rather skip college and continue to work on the ranch. In a conversation between Jackson and Bill in Bill’s truck, the father comments to the son about this opportunity to go to college: “You go give it a shot. If it don’t work out, it don’t work out.” Bill’s incorrect grammar is meant to show that he’s a working-class guy who doesn’t care about speaking proper English.

The other members of the Greer family who live on the ranch are Bill’s wife Monica Greer (played by Andie MacDowell) and their younger son Lucas Greer (played by Alex MacNicoll), who’s close to the same age as Jackson. In their spare time, Bill and his sons patrol the borders of their ranch to try and chase off immigrants and drug smugglers who illegally cross the border. These illegal treks usually happen at night.

Meanwhile, members of a family in Mexico are preparing to make this illegal crossing into the United States. Gustavo Almeida (played by Jorge A. Jimenez) is a widower who has a green card (resident alien documentation) to legally work in the United States. However, Gustavo’s son Fernando (played by Alessio Valentini), who’s about 13 or 14 years old, was denied immigration permission to live in the U.S. with Gustavo.

Gustavo has temporarily returned to Mexico to illegally bring Fernando into the United Sates. About two or three local men they know from Mexico are also on this trek to cross the border with Gustavo and Fernando. Gustavo’s religious mother Lupe (played by Ofelia Medina) is staying behind in Mexico, but she wishes them luck, and she gives Fernando some cash to take with him.

Gustavo, Fernando and the other men cross the border and end up on the Greer family’s property. Bill, Jackson and Lucas are out patrolling that night with their rifles. And, of course, things go horribly wrong.

Bill orders the men to stop because they’re trespassing. Because most of the Mexican men don’t speak English and the Greer men don’t speak Spanish, there’s a language barrier. But there’s no mistaking what the guns are for and Bill’s tone of voice. Gustavo, who speaks some English, raises his hands and tells the Greers that the immigrants don’t want any trouble.

Some of the immigrant men try to ignore Bill and keep going. But with Bill leading the way, he and his sons confront the men. One the immigrants pulls out a switchblade knife. A scuffle ensues where one of the immigrant men gets in a struggle with Bill over his rifle. A shot is fired, and Lucas accidentally gets hit. Meanwhile, a panicked Jackson rushes to his family’s defense and shoots his rifle. The bullet hits Fernando in the back, and he is killed instantly.

During this chaos, Bill has rushed to Lucas’ side, while Gustavo has rushed to Fernando’s side. In a rage, Bill threatens to shoot all of the immigrants if they don’t leave his property. Gustavo begs to stay with Fernando, but he can also tell that Bill is so angry that the Mexican immigrants will be blamed for everything and will probably get arrested. And so, a heartbroken Gustavo leaves with the other men and they go back to Mexico. Lucas is still alive, and he’s taken to a hospital for surgery.

The Texas Ranger who’s in charge of the investigation is named Ramirez (played by George Lopez), and the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers didn’t bother to give this character a first name or a realistic storyline. Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have any law enforcement partners with him during most of the time when he investigates this serious crime. Throughout the entire movie, Ranger Ramirez is the only Texas Ranger in Mexico who’s pursuing this case that could lead to charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Ranger Ramirez is immediately suspicious of Bill’s story that Bill was the one who accidentally shot Fernando in self-defense during the scuffle. Bill is the registered owner of all the guns in this incident, but the facts don’t match up with Bill’s story. Bill claims that he was fighting with one of the immigrants over the gun that ended up shooting Bill’s son Lucas, while Fernando was shot seconds later by another gun. Someone else had to have been holding that other gun that shot Fernando. And Ranger Ramirez instinctively knows the shooter couldn’t have been Bill.

Bill wants to cover up for Jackson because he doesn’t want this crime to ruin Jackson’s promising future. However, Jackson has a guilty conscience. (He’s shown wailing by himself somewhere in the Texas Rangers station while his father is being questioned.) And, as guilty people often do, Jackson (on horseback) goes back to the crime scene.

At the crime scene in the remote desert field, Jackson finds Fernando’s wallet. And just who happens to show up right then and there? Ranger Ramirez, of course, who was presumably following Jackson. Jackson can’t take the guilt anymore and he confesses to Ranger Ramirez that he was the one who shot Fernando.

Instead of allowing himself to be arrested, Jackson panics and flees on his horse, with Ranger Ramirez in pursuit in his squad car. Jackson is able to lose Ranger Ramirez when they reach a creek that Ranger Ramirez can’t cross on foot or by car, but Jackson can cross by horseback. Jackson eventually crosses the border to Mexico. All he has are his cell phone, the clothes he’s wearing, his wallet, his horse and Fernando’s wallet. And he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish.

It’s either lazy screenwriting or the filmmakers’ way of showing that Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have much clout, because he’s the only Texas Ranger shown chasing Jackson, a fugitive who’s wanted for suspected murder or manslaughter. Jackson could be armed and dangerous, but the filmmakers want to make it look like the Texas Rangers are willing to give Jackson a lot of leeway for this felony, because they’ve only sent one Ranger to be in pursuit of him. And the pursuer happens to be Latino. There are some scenes where Ranger Ramirez has to do some running on foot when he’s clearly out of shape, which only highlight how the filmmakers want to make this Latino cop character look like a buffoon without any backup.

The “No Man’s Land” filmmakers try to make it look like they’re not playing into racial stereotypes of Mexican Americans, in an interrogation scene where Bill incorrectly assumes that Ranger Ramirez can speak Spanish. Ranger Ramirez defensively declares that he’s an American too and he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. Therefore, the filmmakers have made Ranger Ramirez look even more inept, as someone who can’t speak Spanish when he goes to Mexico as the lone pursuer of Jackson.

There’s more racial privilege/condescension on display, when Ranger Ramirez tries to find out from Bill and Monica where Jackson could have gone after Jackson has fled from being arrested. And these self-righteous parents end up getting angry at Ranger Ramirez for letting Jackson escape into “dangerous” Mexico. These parents, who come across as racists, seem more worried about Jackson getting hurt by Mexicans while he’s evading arrest than they are about the fact that their son Jackson is the one who’s committed a fatal crime, and he’s breaking the law even more by becoming a fugitive.

Needless to say, this dimwitted movie doesn’t even address that Bill should be in trouble for lying to law enforcement. Bill’s false confession also impeded the investigation, which is another crime. But those crimes are ignored, because in “No Man’s Land,” the white characters are the ones the filmmakers want the audience to root for to be forgiven the most.

Jackson’s parents understandably want the man who accidentally shot Lucas to be arrested, but they (and this movie) expect Jackson, who committed a worse crime of killing someone else, to be shown more mercy. Lucas was shot, but he wasn’t killed. And Jackson’s parents don’t seem to care that a family lost an innocent child because the child’s life was taken by Jackson, who’s alive and well.

The filmmakers give a lot of attention to the Greer family and tell very little about the Almeida family. Viewers never find out what Fernando’s hopes and dreams were or anything substantial about Gustavo and his experiences as a legal Mexican immigrant in the United Sates. There are expected scenes of Gustavo grieving over Fernando’s death, but no further insight into their lives.

By contrast, there’s a lot of concern in the movie over how Jackson’s crime of killing Fernando will negatively affect Jackson’s future and the Greer family’s reputation. The entire “chase” part of the movie puts an emphasis on Jackson feeling out of his comfort zone because he’s hiding out in a country where he doesn’t know the language, even though he’s an outlaw of his own free will. The filmmakers make Jackson’s thoughts and needs more important than any of the Mexicans’ thoughts and needs. It’s a racist imbalance that makes the Mexican characters look like hollow plot devices that serve the main story of how Jackson is going to get out of his self-made predicament.

When Ranger Ramirez gets to Mexico, the movie makes some vague references to Ranger Ramirez enlisting the help of Mexican federales to try to find Jackson, as well as the man who shot Lucas. But these federales are barely seen in the movie and certainly aren’t written as important characters. It’s an example of how the filmmakers marginalize Mexican law enforcement throughout the entire movie. Ranger Ramirez is the only Latino person in the movie who has a significant role as law enforcement, and he’s set up to be a character to go after a white guy who’s supposed to be sympathetic.

And the filmmakers literally have Jackson go on what turns out to be a sympathy tour in Mexico. Everywhere that Jackson goes while he’s hiding from the law, he has Mexicans bending over backwards to help him because they feel sorry for him, even though he’s a stranger who has all the signs of someone who’s left somewhere abruptly and is trying to hide from something: He’s new to the area and homeless; he has no possessions except his horse and a few personal items; and he doesn’t talk about his background.

Jackson doesn’t even know what city he’s in for most of the time he’s in Mexico. He doesn’t bother to use a map, but he has all these friendly Mexicans willing to help him when he wants to hide out somewhere and get advice on where to go next. It’s the movie’s way of saying that a good-looking American white guy who’s a fugitive hiding in Mexico and who doesn’t know Spanish should have it this easy, just because he’s a good-looking American white guy.

That’s what happens when Jackson, who’s on horseback on a nearly deserted road, encounters a truck with a small family of ranchers who are heading back to their home. Even though they know nothing about him, Jackson quickly convinces them on the spot to hire him to work on their ranch and give him and his horse a place to stay. The family happens to have a truck that is already equipped to transport a horse in the back of the truck. Before they drive back to the family’s ranch, Jackson (showing his privileged attitude) acts a little surprised and embarrassed when they tell him that he has to stay in the back of the truck with the horse because there’s no room for Jackson in the front.

The family has two children in their late teens or early 20s: Miguel (played by Iván Aragón) and Victoria (played by Esmeralda Pimentel), who were in the truck when Jackson first met them. It should come as no surprise that Victoria is immediately attracted to Jackson, who acts attracted to her too. But it’s hard to tell how much of Jackson’s flirtation with Victoria is real and how much is fake, since he’s using this family while he hides from the law. Victoria suspects that Jackson has something major to hide, but she goes out of her way to help Jackson, even going as far as giving him cash.

Jackson also has some other “too good to be true” encounters with Mexicans who automatically trust him without knowing anything about him. There’s an elderly couple named Juan (played by Carlos Remolina) and Rosa (played by Julieta Ortiz), who immediately let him stay in their home. They don’t ask Jackson any questions (very unrealistic), and he would’ve stayed longer with them but his time with this gullible couple is interrupted.

And when Jackson is on a bus, he strikes up a conversation with a mother sitting nearby who’s reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to her son, who’s about 7 or 8 years old. The boy thinks the book is boring, until Jackson lectures him about how “Huckleberry Finn” is a classic adventure and asks the boy if he’s gotten to the best parts of the book that talk about the royal characters. The boy says no.

And the next thing you know, the kid is sitting next to Jackson with his head leaning on Jackson’s arm, as Jackson reads the book to him like a friendly neighborhood schoolteacher. The cloying parts of this movie are just beyond laughable. If the filmmakers had more time in this scene, they might have made Jackson charm his way into letting the boy’s mother give Jackson a place to stay too.

Since this movie wants to make Mexicans look inferior to Jackson, there’s a silly subplot about a small-time Mexican criminal named Luis (played by Andrés Delgado), who’s also chasing after Jackson for revenge. Luis, who has a peroxide-blonde faux hawk hairstyle, looks more like a scrawny skater than a supposedly fearsome leader of a gang of hoodlums.

Luis and his sleazy friends live in a run-down trailer area somewhere in the Mexican desert. Apparently, one of the ways they make money is by ripping off unsuspecting tourists by operating a small convenience stand that sells overpriced food and drinks. When Jackson first crosses the border into Mexico, he tries to buy some water from the stand, but then refuses when he sees that he’s being overcharged.

Luis and his gang then try to steal Jackson’s horse, but Jackson is able to fight them off and flee with the horse. Somehow, Luis finds out Jackson is the same guy who’s responsible for killing the son of a local man named Gustavo. Yes, it’s the same Gustavo, the father of the dead Fernando. Luis goes to a grieving Gustavo and offers his services to kill Jackson. Gustavo and Luis then team up to hunt down Jackson and get revenge.

The movie gets even dumber from then on, as Jackson has not only law enforcement chasing after him, but also Gustavo and Luis. There are a few instances where Ranger Ramirez is close to capturing Jackson, but Jackson outsmarts Ranger Ramirez, because the filmmakers are intent on making Ranger Ramirez look like an incompetent fool. Just like Ranger Ramirez, Luis could easily get the help of his cronies to outnumber Jackson, but he doesn’t do that, because the filmmakers don’t want the Mexicans to be smarter than the white Americans in this movie.

The movie’s big climactic showdown is extremely annoying and an insult to viewers’ intelligence. And when viewers find out how much prison time that Jackson would be facing if he’s caught, it’s further proof of racial inequalities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” are trying to pretend that this movie can help heal these racial divides, but this reprehensible movie just fans the flames of bigotry even more by glorifying “white American privilege” and exploiting systemic racism for a cash grab.

IFC Films released “No Man’s Land” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 22, 2021.

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