A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
I’ve always kind of liked Danny Trejo. He’s a decent actor, in the action movie sense (he’s not gonna be winning any Oscars any time soon), an impressive physical presence even as he’s pushing 70 and honestly, his history and the way he’s struggled up to where he is now just makes me kind of want to root for him. Unfortunately he tends to appear in a lot of bad movies, but at least they’re usually entertainingly bad, which is honestly more than I can say for this one.
The plot is pretty standard: Detective Bullet (Danny Trejo) is a loose cannon cop who gets results, and I swear my eyes glazed over typing that. Anyway, the son of a major crime boss he put away is going to be executed soon but his father (Jonathan Banks) is understandably not okay with this. To that end he kidnaps the daughter of the Governor to buy time and puts a plan in motion to make it look like Bullet framed his son, which kicks off with kidnapping Bullet’s grandson.
If the movie has a major issue it’s that it’s trying to serve two completely different masters. It most obviously wants to be a silly action flick in the vein of a Robert Rodriguez movie, as evidenced by it’s semi-vigilante Mexican hero named after a weapon and played by Danny Trejo. But several scenes in the film, such as Bullet’s backstory as a drug addict or his daughter overdosing, speak to a desire to be a gritty drama that wants to be Breaking Bad so hard that they actually just went and hired one of the actors from Breaking Bad, Jonathan Banks.
These elements don’t gel very well as a whole, but they also damage each other. The attempts at dark drama are undercut by sequences in which the crime boss and a single henchman gun down an entire SWAT team. And the film’s attempt to have a dark tone mean that the action scenes are too few and far between to get lost in and too grounded in reality to be much fun. And it goes without saying that the film is a tonal mess. The aforementioned sequence with the two guys gunning down an entire SWAT team with pistols comes right after the boss threatens to have Bullet’s grandson’s fingers cut off.
Of course the film’s action scenes could be overly grounded in reality because the movie’s obviously low budget shining through. Without much in the way of money, both the action and the sets are painfully generic. Most of the movie takes place on generic city streets or apartment buildings that I was almost begging for a warehouse, although brief visits to a deserted hotel/cafe and an art studio (no really) do liven things up. All of the action scenes are pretty generic shootouts, although they’re competently enough staged and there are a couple fun ideas in the final shootout.
The acting is also rather schitzophrenic, once again indicating the film’s inability to hire much in the way of good actors. Trejo is competent enough at playing the action hero bits (a role he could probably do in his sleep at this point) but he seems kind of out of sorts when trying to do the more dramatic aspects. Jonathan Banks is alternately either really into his scenes or phoning it in so hard I half expected him to leave voicemail. I actually kind of like Torsten Voges as Kruger, the henchman; He’s an interesting physical presence and he’s not bad at playing the henchman role, but he doesn’t get a lot of screen time. None of the other actors are worth mentioning, except that it’s kind of weird seeing veteran actor John Savage as the Governor…until you remember what his career has been like lately.
There are a few scattered things that I like. The film makes use of Trejo’s background as a former drug addict and boxer, which is an interesting element that I wish the film had made more of. As I said, the final shootout is reasonably inventive and while the script isn’t very well written, the plot consistently makes sense, which is more than I can for a lot of action movies. There’s also occasional jokey references to Trejo’s Mexican heritage, which honestly just make the movie seem like it wants to be Machete more, but I wish it had done more with them, because the results are amusing. One of the few scenes that actually stood out to me was one where, after a villain yelled at him in French, Bullet responds “This is America. Speak Mexican.” Cheesy and silly? Maybe, but it’s my kind of silly and I wish there was more stuff like that in there.
Once, in film school, I had a discussion with a professor where I asked him why movies that can’t afford good action or special effects tended to concentrate on those things, instead of the writing and the characters. After all, I reasoned, scripts don’t cost that much to get and in places like New York or LA and you can practically find actors in the vending machines. His response? Action and special effects are easy to control, and when you focus on writing and acting and fail, it’s much harder to conceal it.
Scripts and actors may be cheap, but good actors are rare and good scripts are rarer. I have no evidence to support this but I have a feeling that Bullet began life as a much more serious concept that got dumbed down when they realized they couldn’t write the story they wanted to properly. As a result, the movie is basically a wash, but if you’re jonesing for a new Danny Trejo movie and you can’t wait for the next Machete movie, I guess it could serve. Other than that? Avoid.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he was quite surprised to find that the henchman is played by one of the nihilists from The Big Lebowski.
– competently staged
– Danny Trejo is still a good action star
– plot consistently makes sense
– weak script
– action scenes are underwhelming or generic
– Jonathan Banks cannot decide how he wants to play his character