Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a person is in the wrong time at the wrong place and killed for what they discovered. Now, a well-trained, single-minded person comes to town to root out the folks responsible. Mayhem, destruction, and death ensue as this individual exacts revenge.
Such a well-worn story can be applied to thousands of movies; Taken (murder replaced with kidnapping) or the recent Lou Ferrigno starring Instant Death, are just two examples of movies with similar plots to that described above. However, a film can distinguish itself with its specific take on the material. For the UK set, I Am Vengeance those specifics are found in its decent sense of humor and a focus on small-town drug use giving the intense plot an added dash of realism.
British Special Forces officer John Gold (Stu Bennett) learns of his best friend’s death and arrives in the small town the friend called home. Before John can start doing what he came for, which is crack open the skulls of those responsible, he must discover whom those individuals happen to be. After local law enforcement proves to be utterly useless, John enlists the help of well-meaning but strung out Sandra (Anna Shaffer) and Rose (Sapphire Elia), a sweet restaurant owner who wishes to clean up her town. John and Rose have instant chemistry, but things are complicated not just by John’s mission, but also by Rose’s younger sister.
John can connect the dots, through Sandra’s dealer, to an old army battalion who smuggled a massive amount of drugs out of Iraq. Once back, the comrades, led by Hatcher (Gary Daniels), settled in a small town to get the basics of drug-pushing down. However, John’s army buddy was going to rat them out, and now John is going to hunt every last one of them down.
“Bennett’s transformation…from a credible tough guy to lighthearted teasing is a joy…”
Writer-director Ross Boyask’s film is full of charm, starting with Bennett’s rather wonderful performance. Bennett is a former WWE wrestler, performing under the name Wade Barrett, and has a few acting credits under that name as well; most notably the Scott Adkins action film Eliminators. I enjoyed that film, but Bennett’s performance as the dedicated, no-nonsense John Gold is on another level entirely. While it is not yet quite up with best wrestlers turned actors, such as Dwayne Johnson or Dave Bautista, he is far more charismatic than the likes of the dull John Cena or the perpetual awkward flailing of Kevin Nash.
John enters Rose’s cafe, only to find that she was threatened by one of the soldiers and asks if everything is okay. The drug runner leaves and John takes a seat. Rose sits across from him, and they have a flirtatious discussion about what John should order for breakfast. Bennett’s transformation in that one scene from a credible tough guy to lighthearted teasing is a joy to witness.
While Bennett is I Am Vengeance’s best trait, there are plenty of other things to praise. The rest of the cast do a pretty swell job. Anna Shaffer as Sandra gets the audience’s sympathy. This is a character who sells out John for a few hits of heroin, but Shaffer makes this come across as desperation, not cowardice. Gary Daniels turns in a fun performance as the villain and proves he still has it in as far as action chops are concerned. Portraying the sweet Rose, Sapphire Elia is determined, and her love for her sister shines through each scene.
The movie runs a brisk 92 minutes, opening with an action scene, the murder of the friend. From there on out, the longest time without some kind of action beat is probably less than 10 minutes. However, those action scenes are oddly edited at points. John and Sandra go to take out the lab where the drugs are sliced and cooked before being doled out for distribution. John takes on multiple guys at once, while Sandra takes on another. The choreography is solid, utilizing the space well, but the editing is choppy. At one point there’s a tight close up of John’s face, and then one of the henchmen is on the floor. I haven’t the foggiest how he wound up there.
“…decent sense of humor and a focus on small-town drug use giving the intense plot a dash of realism.”
However, this scene leads to the single funniest part of the movie. Sandra’s nonstop chatting already has some humorous lines but as she’s fighting the other three–John and the two people he is punching–stop midway to stare at her going berserk on this person’s back. Their reactions to her fighting style are priceless.
Plot-wise, I Am Vengeance plays out more or less as expected, with no surprises or twists. However, Boyask’s script takes care to give the characters depth and their motivations relatable. As great as Bennett is, John is the most one-note person in the movie. He comes in to do one thing, has training and honor, and sets about his quest. Though, Sandra’s arc is especially engaging, with her drug addiction not being played for cheap drama either.
I Am Vengeance does not break the mold, but it uses its tried and true formula to good effect. Decent action, interesting characters, and a fantastic cast make for a fun watch.
I Am Vengeance (2018) Directed by Ross Boyask. Written by Ross Boyask. Starring Stu Bennett, Gary Daniels, Anna Shaffer, Sapphire Elia.
7 Gummi Bears (out of 10 stars)