There are hundreds of ways to enjoy watching a movie. The source of a person’s pleasure can be as simple as being a fan of an actor, or it can be as obtuse as the use of specific camera lenses or editing techniques. But there is one reason above all else to watching a movie starring British martial artist-turned-DTV stalwart Scott Adkins: as far as pure physicality and athletic ability are concerned, he is one of the most electrifying performers of his generation. Helping matters is that Adkins has seemingly become the muse of another martial artist-turned-DTV stalwart, Israeli director Isaac Florentine. Close Range, the seventh collaboration between the two in 12 years, may be short on story and depth, but is long on expertly-assembled scenes of grade-A ass-whipping.
The story smacks of a cable-grade Sicario rip-off: a rogue soldier on the lam named Colton MacReady (Adkins) runs afoul a Mexican drug lord after disposing of the thugs who kidnapped his niece. He brings her back to her mom (Caitlin Keats, probably best known as Janeen in Kill Bill Vol. 2), who is in the midst of leaving her slimy jerk-off rockabilly douche of a husband (musician Jake La Botz, all twang and slime) who is in deep with the same drug lord. There’s also a crooked sheriff involved with the same cartel who falls prey to the law of Chekhov’s Son; we see him talk to his kid in the first act, so we know that he’ll become a blackmail bargaining chip in the third act. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, that’s just the first day of Screenwriting 101. On the day writers Chad Law and Shane Dax Taylor attended this hypothetical class, other lessons would have likely included “How to Give Every Anonymous Gangster a Protracted 70s-Style Freeze Frame/Name-On-Screen Intro” and “Instant Antagonist: Just Add Political Incorrectness.”
But all of that doesn’t really matter because there are few cinephilic pleasures out there that can match Florentine filming Adkins engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Takes are largely long and fluid, emphasising choreography and impact like the very best of action movies. While not as action-packed as the pair’s previous effort, 2013’s great if bemusingly-titled Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, Close Range’s action is still distinctively clean. Florentine’s edits feel like grace notes, sprinkled in expertly to underline clarity or impact rather than substitute for them. And Adkins, in top form here, disposes of bad guys with a fluidity and grace that transcends mere badassery. Fighting is just another facet of acting on film, and Adkins is one of the world’s top-tier performers in that respect. But in classic big fish/little pond style, this is a DTV action movie, serially thin in nearly every respect doesn’t involve the director or star (I will note that La Botz’s end credits song sounds like a larkish outtake or B-side from Bob Dylan’s Modern Times record).
The stench of genre cliché and shaky screenwriting are all over this film. And yet, even with its silly spaghetti-western accents and warmed-over plot elements, Close Range succeeds in delivering the goods. Not only because of the prodigious athleticism on display or the skill with which it was captured, but because it has the saving grace of unpretentiousness. Though not as swift and exacting as John Wick or as operatic and visceral as The Raid: Berendal, it stands proudly as a sturdy 80-minute meat-and-potatoes action B-movie starring two of the brightest talents in direct-to-video filmmaking, and that alone makes it worth seeking out.
Close Range is currently available on demand and will be released on home video on January 5th, 2016.
Directed by Isaac Florentine; written by Chad Law and Shane Dax Taylor; starring Scott Adkins, Nick Chinlund, Jake La Botz, Caitlin Keats, Tony Perez, and Scott Evans; 80 minutes.