Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not-So-Perfect Getaway: IN THE BLOOD

I’m rooting for Gina Carano. As an action star, she has plenty of promise. She’s a former mixed martial arts fighter who carries that physicality with great calm and capable choreography into a screen presence that’s compelling and intriguing. Her weird blend of unruffled expression and tight body language gives her a real ease that draws me in, even in the center of the terrible cheapo actioner that is In the Blood, her latest film. After her first lead role in Steven Soderbergh’s sleek Haywire and a choice supporting turn as The Rock’s right-hand woman in Fast & Furious 6, she deserves better than the woefully generic, bungled B-movie she’s headlining here. It’s the kind of movie that should have a simple hook, but takes its nugget of pulpy interest and muddles it up with belabored backstory and dropped subplots that add up to nothing much, stuck somewhere frustrating between trying too hard and not trying hard enough.

Director John Stockwell has made that his trademark as of late, with slight B-movies like Cat Run and Dark Tide that are too lazy to be effective and too clumsily plotted to fully activate what small simple pleasures they could generate. It’s no wonder that his best film of this kind (leaving out his actual best film, the nicely observed 2001 teen drama Crazy/Beautiful) is his simplest. That’d be 2005’s diving-for-treasure thriller Into the Blue which used a nicely photographed beach-side setting as an excuse to stage sequences of moderate suspense when it’s not ogling stars Jessica Alba and the late Paul Walker, hired to look good in swimwear and filling their roles splendidly. Still, it’s nothing more than a barely passable matinee diversion on a lethargic day.

In the Blood also takes place by the beach, looking at times like a nice paid vacation for all involved. But the movie spends little time in bikinis and almost as little time taking in the scenery. Just as well, since the movie is shot on some of the cheapest, ugliest digital video I’ve ever seen professionally projected in a movie theater. Sometimes, Stockwell cuts to pixilated cell phone video (shot on what appears to be circa 2003 technology), smeary surveillance feeds, and chunky GoPro footage, the better to make us grateful for what subpar cinematography we get, I suppose. The story follows Carano as a newlywed honeymooning on a small Caribbean island with husband Cam Gigandet. He goes missing in the aftermath of a suspicious zipline accident. She sets out to find him and get to the bottom of the apparent conspiracy to keep her from the truth about why he was taken.

As if that’s not enough, we also get flashbacks to Carano’s character as a teenager. She’s toughened up and taught to fight by her father (Stephen Lang) who tells her “scars are tattoos with better stories.” She has killed multiple people in self-defense on separate occasions. We hear she met her husband at Narcotics Anonymous. So she’s had a hard life. Why all this overly tragic backstory is loaded on top of this relatively simple story is beyond me. If a movie’s going to traffic in stereotypical character types as thoroughly as this one, why bother explaining? Maybe screenwriters James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin thought we would want to know why Carano is such a good fighter. Thanks, but no thanks. No Gene Kelly movie ever felt the need to take the time to painstakingly let us know how his characters became great dancers.

Into the Blood is lazily plotted, with little energy to the mystery. Methinks a problem might be the movie’s assumption that we’ll miss Cam Gigandet. He’s so painfully unconvincing in the opening scenes I was all too happy writing him off as an unseen MacGuffin character for most of the movie. (The reveal of the details of his fate is a big let down, too.) As Carano goes looking for him, scene after scene is shaggily, sloppily assembled. The action is sporadic, in murkily shaking shots, and torturous without impact. When not brawling, scenes are brightly overlit. You can see the actors sweating and squirming in front of the camera, trying and failing to make the tortured twists and clunky dialogue work.

The ensemble includes Ismael Cruz Cordova, Amaury Nolasco, and the always-welcome Danny Trejo as locals who spend their time helping and hindering the search. They’re fine, I suppose, but utterly indistinct. Most everyone is just there to move things along and not pull focus from the star. She’s great, but so underserved by the material that she fails to live down to it. If the story was sharper or the ensemble more vividly sketched, maybe she’d have something to work off of. The best part ends up being the wonderful Luis Guzmán as a laid-back local cop who has exactly zero interest in the situation in which Carano’s found herself. I liked that about him. I could relate.

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