The buddy action comedy will never die
French and Sue are back!
Which was certainly no guarantee because Sue (Louis Mandylor) was pretty decisively dead at the end of The Debt Collector and French (Scott Adkins) was likely mortally wounded. It was also no guarantee because, let’s face it, this burgeoning franchise isn’t exactly the household name it should be. While I’m pretty sure The Debt Collector is my very favorite film yet to come out of the highly productive pairing of filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson and actor/martial artist Scott Adkins’ frequent collaborations, one is justified in having a few questions about this franchise.
For one thing, these films are buddy action comedies. Down to their core. Adkins and Mandylor share the spotlight and the films rest entirely on the dynamic chemistry between the leads. So why was the first film called The Debt Collector? Which character did that title refer to? Here, at least in the US, this latest film (most definitely a traditional sequel in every sense) is more aptly titled Debt Collectors, which gives no real indication that this is a sequel, but at least feels more accurate. I believe both films have received different titles in different regions around the world (a common practice).
The great news is, of course, that both films kick ass and drama around the official titles quickly fades into the background whilst watching. But before we get around to more specifics, let’s address that whole “wait, aren’t these guys dead or at least dead-adjacent?” issue. Due to my certainty concerning our leads’ mortality at the end of The Debt Collector, I was someone uncertain about whether I’d like this new sequel. Part of my love for the original film had to do with the incredible arc it created, managing to rise up and own every genre it dabbled in from comedy, to action film, to grimy 70s-inspired crime film, to redemptive character study. Our characters risking their necks and likely dying in the process really made that film. Humorously, Debt Collectors actually handles this situation VERY directly. We open with a dancing, peppy, decisively alive Sue, who “meets cute” with a very surprised French over a barroom brawl to kick things off. There’s already been an action scene before we even get around to it, but eventually these old friends are seated in a diner having a conversation you just don’t get in lots of movies like this. “Mate… weren’t you… dead?” It’s handled with such directness and yet, so casually, that I just totally rolled with it.
Debt Collectors is a very traditional sequel in that it brings back the elements that we loved from the first film and amps up some of the fun while perhaps also lowering the stakes. There’s a lighter aura here, and you’re fairly certain this film is re-setting the tone to allow us to follow these knuckle-headed low rent debt collectors on many more adventures. I’d say Debt Collectors isn’t as singular as its predecessor, but never feels like a disappointment because it plays the sequel game so well. One need not be highly familiar with the first film to ease right back into the witty and slimy dynamic between these two. And a fun storyline with a few casting surprises and some (obviously) great action makes Debt Collectors exactly the kind of romp you’re hoping for.
This time Sue and French are needing to collect 3 major debts in just 2 days for their old pal Tommy (Vladimir Kulich). Only Sue clearly isn’t letting French in on all the details, and they’ve got a tail following and watching their every move. The story is broken into chapters with very entertaining variances to each escalating challenge. They encounter Sue’s former formidable flame Mal Reese (Star Trek’s Marina Sirtis), which generates some… consequences. It’s also exciting that The Road Warrior and Commando’s Vernon Wells gets a role in another of their collecting mis-adventures. Everything comes to a head with a satisfying crescendo of violence and conflict both between our leads and all the victims they’ve left in their wake.
Filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson, screenwriter Stu Small, and star Scott Adkins have gotten themselves into a collaborative sweet spot that I have been extremely pleased to experience and write about over the last several years. A massive Scott Adkins fan since I stumbled upon Undisputed II & III on DVD, I’ve seen and written about almost every single film he’s made since. What thrills me most about following his career as it exists today is that he’s taken control in a brilliant way. With a name and reputation that’s bankable enough to get movies of a certain budget greenlit, Adkins is able to produce, star, write, do fight work, and really shape the films he’s lending his talent to. Johnson is equally excelling and thriving via his collaboration with Adkins and beyond, as is Stu Small, Adkins’ childhood friend who had his own film industry career going but who’s really put a polish on quite a few scripts they’ve done together now.
The Debt Collector films, however, shine just as much due to Louis Mandylor’s presence. Sue is a fantastic character for Mandylor. He’s a little over the top, but I adore this guy and Mandylor is easily the best co-star Adkins has ever had to spark off of. They’re hilarious, their dynamic frequently furthers the plot in natural ways, and they’ve each got their own way to kick ass and collect.
Everyone involved in Debt Collectors is almost certainly hoping audiences will continue to want to experience the seedy adventures of French and Sue. While this sequel offers mildly diminishing returns from the first outing, what it lacks in singularity it makes up for in entertainment value. You can do a lot worse than simply being more of a good thing. I know I’d personally ride with French and Sue on as many outings as they can deliver.
And I’m Out.
Debt Collectors comes to Digital May 29th (US) from Samuel Goldwyn Films