There are no guarantees in cinema, but one thing you can typically count on is Scott Adkins delivering the ass-kicking goods. He’s a legit action star capable of creating truly impressive fight scenes when given the chance, and while he’s been around for almost two decades now some of his best work has been in the last few years. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Ninja: Shadow of a Tear are two of the best action films of 2012 and 2013, respectively, and his skills are the main reason why.
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t seen either film as they’re both essentially straight to DVD titles, but you might recognize Adkins from his appearances in bigger fare like The Expendables 2, Zero Dark Thirty, and the upcoming Doctor Strange. The problem? With the exception of a brief stint in The Bourne Ultimatum the films most people have seen him in are ones where he’s not allowed to unleash his skills. You have to look towards his smaller releases for that kind of joy.
Close Range is one of those smaller films, and while it’s not good it’s still a should-see for fans of masterful beat-downs.
Cole (Adkins) is a man on the run, but his status as a fugitive isn’t enough to deter him from helping those in need along the way. Currently it’s his niece who’s in trouble – she’s been abducted by members of a Mexican cartel in response to her step-father’s poor judgement. We first meet Cole walking into their stronghold south of the border and laying waste to every man in his way. He gets her home safe, but trouble follows both in the form of cartel thugs and a corrupt local sheriff (Nick Chinlund). Trapped on the farmland with his sister and niece, Cole is forced to defend them from an armed onslaught.
That’s the extent of the film, and there really are only those two locations – cartel building and farmhouse – with brief only excursions into the surrounding area. There’s no character depth visible on either side of the border or moral divide, and the script (by Chad Law and Shane Dax Taylor) is so straightforward as to have you suspect it was actually little more than a treatment (that inexplicably took two people to write). In this regard it’s fairly reminiscent of action cinema from the ’80s and ’90s that cared not a damn about characterization or depth and instead just plopped its action star into a situation and let him fight his way out again, but at least those typically had fun with puffed chests and eccentricities – here it’s all just so drab.
Director Isaac Florentine, who has helmed some of Adkins’ best action features, delivers on that front once again, but the surrounding film is his least interesting yet. We’re given onscreen text defining how samurai turned into ronin and how some went on to help others, some became outlaws, and some did both, but its meaningless posturing in regard to Cole’s adventure. As all eleven cartel heavies arrive at the house the screen pauses and zooms in on each to identify them by name (Lobo, Loco, etc), but it’s a distraction without purpose. Their names are irrelevant and in most cases never mentioned again, and as Cole takes them out one by one we never think “oh boy there goes Pablo!” It’s a flourish meant to fill screen time and nothing more.
The exception to Florentine’s apparent lack of creative energy here is an opening tracking shot as Cole squares off against the cartel on their turf. His camera takes us up elevators and through rooms and hallways on a journey punctuated by brutal take-downs and finishing moves, and it’s a high bar the film never tries to reach again.
That said, while the bulk of the film’s action is presented without fanfare or style we do get to see Adkins delivering where it matters. There’s gunplay here, but most of the baddies are dismantled by hand (and foot). The main strength of a Florentine/Adkins pairing is the fight choreography – it’s tight, fast, and looks real. Watch most fight scenes and when a punch is thrown only to be dodged or blocked that punch is typically aimed high – meaning if it hadn’t of been blocked or dodged it would have sailed right over the intended recipient’s head. Here though the punches are clearly aimed directly for the faces, and this is a tangible difference in a fight’s authenticity.
Close Range is instantly forgettable, but Adkins is not. Save it for a lazy afternoon when you’re in the mood for mindless action.