Screener Review: CLOSE RANGE (2015)

Nearly a decade ago, an unremarkable film (Undisputed) got an unexpected sequel (Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing) that blew the minds of action fans all over the world. The film's director, Isaac Florentine, had been toiling in everything from Power Rangers to WMAC Masters for years before being given the reigns to the THEN non-franchise. With the combined action muscle of Michael Jai White and newcomer Scott Adkins, Florentine changed the game of DTV action movies; something he's continued to do ever since. Now, in the lead-up to the highly anticipated FOURTH Undisputed title, Florentine/Adkins are serving us a relentlessly lean actioners to pass the time; but is it too lean to satisfy action fans as we await the return of Yuri Boyka?

Close Range is the story of Colton McReady (Adkins), an ex-soldier who never learned how to smile and copes with it by beating people up. He runs afoul a Mexican drug cartel that has decided to target his extended family. Outnumbered and outgunned, Colton has to fight to keep his estranged sister and her daughter from winding up on the business end of a Desert Eagle.

The film kicks off the way any good action movie should, with an extended, one-shot fight scene against ten cartel soldiers. This kind of action scene has become a trademark of the Florentine/Adkins brand and doesn't fail to impress. From the start, it's obvious the action style is more grounded than their previous film, Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear. While that film's fights were great showcases of athleticism, Close Range's battles are more focused on brutality with little to no acrobatics to speak of.

The film takes a break from the carnage to give context to Colton's beatdown fiesta; he's trying to rescue his kidnapped niece. We soon learn that her stepdad is a cartel lackey who stole drugs from his bosses and the girl was taken as collateral. The bloodbath and subsequent rescue kicks off the most violent afternoon in DTV history. The conflict escalates with dirty cops and cartel boss Fernando Garcia converging on Colton's sister's house. They don't intend to leave until they retrieve their drugs and get some revenge.

Florentine is known for his lean, mean action movies but this one is in desperate need of a little more substance. The characters are all very stock, lacking any traits that make them memorable. Adkins is all scowls and brooding but his character here lacks the pathos and depth of Yuri Boyka to make him compelling. The other characters are barely memorable, something that actually hurts the action; the danger feels less palpable when you aren't invested in ANY of the characters. The story is just a canvas to hang the action scenes on, which is hardly a deal-breaker but it is a missed opportunity.

From its modern western aesthetic to its whistle-heavy soundtrack, this film feels like a gritty update to Lone Wolf McQuaide. Everything about it feels like an updated Chuck Norris vehicle; something that Canon Films was cranking out like a factory in the 80s. The villains' bullets seem to deliberately avoid our hero, martial arts solves ALL problems, and the damsels always seem to find their way into distress. It's a classic setup that gets the job done, even if it feels a little out of its time.

But now for the moment you've all been waiting for... does the ACTION deliver in this action movie? By normal DTV action standards, Close Range's action stands head and shoulders above almost all of its contemporaries; the choreography is brutal and the camerawork is fluid. Most fight scenes play out in long, unbroken shots that really show off the physical prowess of Adkins and his screen opponents. BUT, by Isaac Florentine standards, it falls short of many of his other recent collaborations with Adkins. The fight scenes lack a lot of the memorable beats of films like Undisputed 3: Redemption and Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear and the opponents lack the kind of personality we're used to seeing. Longtime fans of these two may need to temper their expectations; the fights are impressive, the gunfights are serviceable and the less said about the film's car chase, the better.

If nothing else, Close Range feels like a stopgap to tide us over until Boyka: Undisputed IV hits next year. It lacks a lot of the punch and personality of Florentine's recent output; the nonexistent story and characters are the biggest culprits. Still, the team of Florentine and Adkins makes this a very watchable stopgap if not a pretty entertaining one. Consider it an appetizer for what's to come.


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