REVIEW: The Enforcer (dir. Richard Hughes)

Certificate: 18 (sexual violence, strong violence). Running Time: 90 mins. UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

WHO’S IN IT?

Antonio Banderas, Kate Bosworth, Mojean Aria, Alexis Ren, Zolee Griggs, 2 Chainz, Mark Smith, Luke Bouchier, Aaron Cohen, Kika Georgiou, Kostas Sommer, Christos Vasilopoulos, Vivian Milkova

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Richard Hughes (director), W. Peter Iliff (writer), Natalie Burn, Jeffrey Greenstein, Yariv Lerner, Robert Van Norden, Les Weldon, Jonathan Yunger (producers), Giorgio Giampà (composer), Callan Green (cinematographer), Damian F. Gomez, Mattias Morheden (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A mob enforcer (Banderas) attempts to save a young runaway (Griggs) from a nasty fate…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE ENFORCER?

When Liam Neeson threatened his daughter’s kidnappers over the phone in Taken, he became an unexpected action movie icon. Since then, many other seasoned actors have attempted to revitalise their movie star persona with lead turns in gritty action thrillers, from Denzel Washington to John Travolta, all the way to Antonio Banderas who now heads the Taken-baiting thriller The Enforcer.

Now, the Spanish actor has certainly headlined his own fair share of action movies across his esteemed career, some of them further cementing him as one of the industry’s coolest performers, but occasionally he’ll pop up in something that looks and feels like it belongs in a bargain bin at your local Blockbuster Video in 2002. Needless to say, The Enforcer belongs to the latter camp.

A dull, tension-free, and incredibly conventional ride all the way from its rather spoiler-heavy opening scene onwards, The Enforcer – the feature directorial debut of Richard Hughes, brother to action filmmaker Patrick Hughes of The Hitman’s Bodyguard fame – stars Banderas as Cuda (short for “Barracuda”, because this movie really thinks it’s that hip), a mob enforcer in Miami who works for femme fatale crime boss Estelle (Kate Bosworth). He’s just been assigned a protégé, young streetfighter Stray (Mojean Aria), who accompanies him on some rough house calls, but Cuda – who’s just got out of prison, and has a non-existent relationship with his ex-wife or their teen daughter – is more interested in taking care of Billie (Zolee Griggs), a fifteen-year-old runaway who he spots trying to shoplift, and subsequently puts her up in a motel for the time being. Unfortunately, or perhaps inevitably, Billie is taken (ahem) by sex traffickers, and it’s up to Cuda and Stray – who himself is getting friendly with Lexus (Alexis Ren), one of Estelle’s girls at the club she runs – to find and rescue her before it’s too late.

Something you may have noticed about the plot to The Enforcer – other than it’s aping Taken so hard that perhaps Liam Neeson should send his lawyers, who incidentally have their own very particular set of skills – is that the names of these characters are almost laughably movie-ish, as in nobody in the real world would ever adopt ones like Cuda, Lexus, or especially Stray and expect to be taken seriously. Oddly enough, there is an explanation of sorts for that: the script is written by W. Peter Iliff, who among his many scripts over the years is still perhaps best known for writing Kathryn Bigelow’s 90s action hit Point Break, which lest it be forgotten had a guy named Johnny Utah as its hero, and others like Bodhi, Roach, Grommet and Bunker as just some of its villains. However, Point Break is a far more over-the-top and openly ridiculous action movie, so Iliff’s script could get away with having characters that bore names which nobody in the real world would adopt, whereas in The Enforcer, because the tone is much more straight-faced and less inclined to embrace its own silliness, being asked to accept that one of the main characters is named Stray (whose love interest shares the name of a car brand) is too much to comprehend.

Funnily enough, it has less in common with the original Point Break, and more with its awful recent remake which similarly tried, and miserably failed, to dial down the ridiculousness (though I want to state that The Enforcer is a better movie than the newer Point Break, but not by much). It’s a film that’ll leave you feeling mostly bored, not just because you know every plot beat that it’s going to hit since it’s been done so many other times in other Taken-baiting movies, but because it’s an oddly tension-free script that never gets itself off the ground until it’s too late. The central conflict of Banderas’ Cuda – sorry, I just can’t get over that name – trying to find this kidnapped young girl isn’t believable enough to justify its existence, because you just don’t buy why he’d want to risk everything to save this one person who he only met once, but for some reason has decided he’s responsible for. It’s also incredibly easy for Banderas to figure out not just where she’s being kept, but also who’s running the whole operation; at least in Taken, Liam Neeson had to go a few more places just to get a possible lead on his missing daughter, but here it’s made so easy for Banderas that he might as well have been guided there by a flashing neon arrow.

The script, direction, and most of the acting isn’t invigorating enough to further prevent boredom from settling in, despite its reasonably short 90-minute running time – except for Banderas himself, who does give the role some level of class and charisma that is not present elsewhere in the film. He acts circles around many of his co-stars, including Mojean Aria who plays his part like a bargain-bin Jesse Pinkman, Kate Bosworth who lacks the screen presence and the menace to be a truly intimidating villain, and the less said about rapper 2 Chainz as the movie’s ultimate heavy, the better. It’s only because of Banderas that the movie is somewhat watchable, because you can tell that he’s not sleepwalking through what could have been an easy in-and-out role for him, and he does have a good screen presence that can carry scenes containing some seriously trite dialogue.

It’s a movie you’ll forget about very quickly after watching it, and is destined to sit on the never-ending Netflix scroll while visitors pass by it in favour of something more worth their time – or, at least, something where the main characters don’t have laughably dumb names like Cuda and Stray.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Enforcer is a dull and tension-free action thriller that’s elevated only by Antonio Banderas’ screen presence and easy charisma, but otherwise can’t escape from some poor writing that gives characters far-too easy conflicts and even sillier names, and unengaging direction that doesn’t pick up the pace until it’s far too late for the viewer to want to watch Taken instead.

The Enforcer is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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