As recently as March’s rebooted Death Wish with Bruce Willis you’ve seen this recycled movie trope, yet here comes another film about someone who goes nuts after their loved one gets murdered and then goes on a wild killing spree.
I supposed I should be happy this time around the movie stars a female in the lead role that’s mostly associated with a guy, so there’s that. Anyway, it’s the mean streets of L.A. and we have the happy little North family: dad Chris (Jeff Hephner), a local mechanic, mom Riley (Jennifer Garner), who works her butt off at a local bank, and their precocious little girl, Carley (Cailey Fleming), who is celebrating her 8th birthday pretty close to Christmas. But things go terribly south as a powerful and ruthless drug cartel in town has chosen to kill Chris because he’s a liability… and a plot device. Naturally, everyone dies except for Riley, who miraculously survives the drive-by shooting.
As you might expect, the bad guys she fingers go free and this makes her mad. How mad? She disappears for fives years “off the grid”, returning on the anniversary of their deaths for some sweet payback. Buffed, loaded with weaponry, and street hardened, she’s not just content on killing the guys that pulled the trigger, she wants Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the cartel kingpin who ordered the hit in the first place. BUT! Before Riley gets to him, she’s gonna wipe out every generic thug, henchman, and worker-bee that he has first, not to mention messing up his drug operations.
Meanwhile, breathing down her neck are the local law dogs, L.A. detectives Carmichael & Beltran (John Gallagher, jr & John Ortiz). They’re joined by FBI specialist Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh), and together they start to close in on Riley and her home somewhere on Skid Row. But you came to revel in Riley’s revenge, right? Well, you get that and more as the fearless vigilante becomes a social media hero, while wiping out bad guy after bad guy in a hail of bullets and quippy one-liners. Screenwriter Chad St. John knows a thing or two about bullets and shooting people as he wrote the laughable London Has Fallen (which was itself a copy-cat of White House Down).
The movie plays out like the generic vigilante fan-fiction you’d expect, but with some nice little spins thrown in. It looks like director Pierre Morel (Taken, The Gunman) must’ve seen the John Wick movies and decided to pattern Jennifer Garner in that mold (Jane Wick?). Her meticulous and precision shooting, her commando hand-to-hand, and her inability to be killed after being mercilessly beaten, shot, and knifed. But where John Wick rarely talks, Riley likes to speak in a sinister manner that curls your toes; a nice touch that sets her apart and Garner really pulls it off without any katanas, sai’s, or Daredevil boyfriends.
The only thing that hurts this film are the stock characters and some choices of direction. All the villains are your basic two-dimensional boring bad guys you’d get at the bargain bin at your local Villain Store. The good guys (the cops) don’t fair much better, as they hardly get invested in who they are. Then you have Morel’s “stylistic” direction which, unfortunately, includes his signature slam-cuts and yellow-colored, shakey-cam edits. Those get REALLY annoying! Yes, yes, yes, you’ve seen this movie trope many times before, but this film has a certain entertaining value that’s worth a watch.