Netflix's Tough-Guy Thriller 'Point Blank' Is a Scattered, Frantic Action Throwback
For all its attempts at winning over genre fans with a near constant stream of sleepy science-fiction thrillers, Netflix's film division has shown less enthusiasm in populating the aisles of its digital video store with low-brow, bullet-ridden action movies. You know the type of movie: Picture a mildly famous actor or a former pro wrestler mugging on the cover of a DVD with gun in hand, ammo strapped over the shoulders, or an explosion in the background. Yes, there was the sleazy hitman movie Polar and the military heist drama Triple Frontier from earlier this year, but where are the greasy fight movies? If Netflix can fund a dozen Adam Sandler projects, they should be able to produce at least one Scott Adkins original.
In the meantime, you'll have to make due with Point Blank, a Cincinnati-set remake of a 2010 French thriller about an ordinary guy who finds himself in a Taken-like scenario when his pregnant wife is kidnapped. (Sorry, Parker fans: This is not a modern-day update of the 1967 Lee Marvin classic Point Blank, which was adapted from the Richard Stark novel The Hunter, about the master thief who's played by Jason Statham and Mel Gibson in later films.) Where the French Point Blank was a quick, post-Bourne chop to the throat, this remake from director Joe Lynch (Mayhem) is a bit more punchdrunk, bouncing between moments of goofball humor and medium-octane intensity. Ideal "recommended if you like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys" fodder.
As the in-over-his-head nurse Paul, Anthony Mackie brings a quiet vulnerability and dignified affability to an underwritten role, doing his best to sell himself as a Metal Gear Solid-referencing, running-from-a-fight everyman despite his Marvel-ready physique. (After his gamer turn in Black Mirror's "Striking Vipers" earlier this year and his appearance in the dystopian parable IO, the actor is becoming something like an in-house Netflix player.) He's presented as a model citizen, buying coffee for a homeless ex-patient who hangs outside the hospital where he works, and an overworked but caring family man, encouraging his pregnant wife (Teyonah Parris) to relax while he finishes painting the mural on the wall of the nursery.
Introduced dodging gunfire and leaping out of a window to the hardcore blast of Black Flag's "Rise Above," one of the many jarringly pleasing needle-drops on the soundtrack, Frank Grillo gets to play the flashier part of Abe, a career-criminal with a gruff demeanor, a slick haircut, and a strong right hook. Abe ends up handcuffed to a bed in Paul's hospital after his own getaway driver brother Mateo (Christian Cooke) accidentally knocks him to the ground following Abe's theft of a highly coveted USB drive full of confidential dirt. In a hair-brained scheme to free his brother, Mateo kidnaps Paul's wife and demands that he free Abe. If this doesn't already sound convoluted, the script, adapted by writer Adam G. Simon and staying mostly true to the broader outline of the original, also adds a tough-as-nails cop played by Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden and a William Friedkin-loving cinephile gangster named Big D.
Grillo, who had a role in Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier alongside Mackie but really came into his own as an action star with the bloody agitprop horror sequels The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year, displays a sharp understanding of his own grizzled, macho screen persona here. Where his character in the French original was a quiet, determined assassin, Grillo's version is more of a wisecracking, ever-smirking hunk. Slugging his way through a soapy car wash brawl and grabbing the steering wheel during a car chase in a PT Cruiser, he excels at all the deliberately tweaked '80s action movie beats. He's good enough to make you wish he'd been equipped with funnier lines than the standard "shut up and don't be a pussy" banter he shares with Mackie as the fledgling buddies outrun their pursuers.
Though aided by its frantic pace and mercifully short run-time -- less than 90 minutes! -- Point Blank nevertheless manages to be annoyingly self-aware and clever, particularly down the homestretch as the stakes start to rise. If you're going to name-check To Live and Die in L.A., the 1985 fatalistic neo-noir with a sinister Wang Chung soundtrack, and literally show a clip from Sorcerer, one of the most thrilling adventure stories ever put to film, it's inevitably going to make viewers wish they were watching one of those better, more inventive movies. (Unsurprisingly, you won't find either streaming on Netflix.) The blank cityscapes of the movie have an oddly soothing quality, but the finale, which takes place at a police precinct, scans as suspiciously barren, like the filmmakers couldn't get enough extras to nail the right look of the sequence. Instead of feeling kinetic and frenzied, the events are just rushed.
Still, hopefully Netflix keeps making more genre movies in this vein. Wheelman, the last modestly scaled Netflix action project from Grillo and producer Joe Carnahan (Narc, The Grey), was a sturdy and enjoyable car-chase throwback. It had a level of detail and craft to it that the admittedly more comedic Point Blank, with its jumbled flashbacks and irksome punchlines, often lacks. But for people who miss movies like this getting the late-summer big-screen rollout, it's worth watching for the performances, particularly Grillo's take on the wounded tough guy archetype. At the age of 54, he brings a pained weariness and a brooding sensitivity to the part that makes you root for him. If he stays on this path, he'll eventually find the right role for his very particular set of skills.