Another action star to keep your eye on
There’s not a single new idea to be found in I Am Vengeance, the latest action vehicle for rising star Stu Bennett (formerly of WWE fame as Wade Barrett). And you know what? Who needs new ideas when a little film like I Am Vengeance can hew closely to action cinema templates and keep you entertained for a cool ninety minutes with an exciting star and an engaging plot?
Very much akin to a British version of Walking Tall, with Bennett’s John Gold rolling into the small town of Devotion and finding it rotten to the core with drugs, corruption, and a very unwelcoming local pub; Gold is going to have to clean house if he’s going to find the people responsible for killing his best friend. Fortunately, Gold has all the skills he needs to take out the trash. Like Zatoichi or Jack Reacher or Kwai Chang Caine, Gold saunters into this town as a mystery and slowly reveals his remarkable skills as he rights all the unjust wrongs before tearing off into the sunset in his black muscle car to inevitably encounter another adventure in a town that needs some un-corruptin’. It’s very familiar, but it happens to be one of my favorite tropes, with a British vibe this time, so you won’t find me complaining.
Not being a WWE fan, I discovered Stu Bennett via his co-starring turn against Scott Adkins in 2016’s Eliminators, which I very much enjoyed. I Am Vengeance sold me on checking it out with Bennett, a pretty energetic and enjoyable trailer, and the presence of Gary Daniels as the heavy. Now on the other side of Eliminators and I Am Vengeance, I’m pretty sold on Bennett as an action hero. He’s obviously got the physical presence. WWE guys are nothing if not hulking brutes who lumber real good. But what Vengeance proves is that he’s also got knack for comedic dialog and even a little heart, too. Mind you, I’m not saying the guy is Oscar caliber. I’m just saying I’m more inclined to check out his stuff after two projects that display his burgeoning talent far more than they display his lack of it. Lots of guys have tried their hands at action stardom and proven far less capable.
Daniels, a major action cinema veteran of a couple decades now also gets to vamp it up as the lead villain in I Am Vengeance. He plays Hatcher, a special forces commander heading up this elite and corrupt unit who have taken up residence in this small British town for inexplicable reasons that Gold will soon uncover. (It’s drugs. Or something). He seems to be having a great time and looks fantastic, with plenty of vitality left for further high octane roles like this. Anna Shaffer (a background player in multiple Harry Potter films) fills out the female lead role as plucky pub server (and drug addict) Sandra. She’s embroiled in the mystery somehow, but also acts as a bit of a sidekick to Gold. It’s a fairly thankless role, but she makes the most of it. There’s also a bit of a love interest (which will have to remain unrequited, because heroes of this mold are wanderers who can never settle in) in Rose, played by Sapphire Elia. It’s also a thankless role but does serve to inject just a little bit of humanity into Gold, giving him like half a dimension on top of “killing machine but good guy”.
The Britishness of I Am Vengeance is probably its second greatest strength behind Bennett himself. It’s funny to see this template applied to the British countryside. It’s an unabashed American western that’s unafraid to also be super British. Everyone speaks with an accent, the pub is central to the whole thing, and it’s enjoyable seeing an American muscle car charge through the Devotion letting its influences fly.
It must also be noted that writer/director Ross Boyask does solid work overall and becomes another name to look out for. The script is certainly stronger than the direction, but it can’t be ignored that Bennett wouldn’t have looked so promising if the script or direction had let him down. Vengeance suffers from a lot of the same issues that other movies of its budget and ilk suffer, such as drab lighting, unexciting cinematography, and the general low budget making itself known from time to time with flat supporting actors or barren shooting locations. This stuff is par for the course with direct to video action at this point, however. A discerning fan must look past these shortcoming if they’re ever going to enjoy movies in this corner of the market. I can look past those things, and I found a solid time at the movies. Which is great, because Boyask and Bennett are currently filming a sequel with Vinnie Jones even as I type, and I’ll be there to check that one out for sure.
And I’m Out.
I Am Vengeance is available on Digital/DVD/Blu-ray Oct. 23rd, 2018 from Lionsgate and Saban Films.