With The Handler, it’s evident that writer-director Michael Matteo Rossi is attempting to channel the brand of action cinema that worked wonders to bolster the home video market in the 1980s and 90s. These titles were often the equivalent of a fast-food cheeseburger – their presumed deliciousness and accessibility pardoned the customarily crude construction.
While often critically derided, these hyper-masculine forays into violence and revenge have been revitalized and celebrated in well-known reappraisals by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and other filmmakers nostalgic for the hidden qualities of cheap entertainment. Unfortunately, Rossi manages to conspicuously bypass adding any of this entertainment value, opting instead to present a banal collection of fisticuffs and gunplay devoid of the most delectable aspect of the aforementioned greasy cheeseburger – its flavor.
Mindless action films centered around a skeleton of a narrative can work, but even the barest of scripts need to allow space for interesting characters. In The Handler, we have Chris Levine as Ryker Dune (a character with bangs as bad as his name), a former Marine now employed by Vinnie (Michael Pashan), the most cartoonishly unoriginal mobster in recent memory. Ryker wants out, Vinnie says no, and this becomes the basis for the carnage to come.
There’s also a garbage bag of undisclosed contents that Ryker has possession of that Vinnie is desperate to retrieve. Along the way, we get intermittent flashbacks involving Ryker’s sister, Linn (Cathy Dune), and wife, Jane (Rachel Alig), who could be excised from the film quite easily without any noticeable effect on the narrative.
“…a small army’s worth of assassins come to kill Ryker…”
As a small army’s worth of assassins come to kill Ryker at the multi-million-dollar villa that he’s hiding out in, the bullets start flying, and the body count starts rising. This is obviously what we’re here came to see, and it’s not terrible. The fights are decently choreographed. While they never approach the originality or brutality of something like The Raid, we’re grateful that we get to see Levine fight instead of watching his stilted performance of the more expository scenes.
It’s difficult to determine how much time is supposed to pass during the cacophony of violence, but it seems inexplicable that the barrage of gunfire in an affluent Los Angeles suburb (much of it in broad daylight) wouldn’t attract the notice of the authorities. One shouldn’t normally harp on these gaps in logic in a cheap action production, but the lack of attention to detail is noticeable.
However, the insurmountable handicap that plagues The Handler is a palpable lack of personality. There’s no requirement for eloquence, but if the action is going to be the sole focus, it needs to stand out a bit more, and the film needs a memorable main character. John McClane in Die Hard and John Wick in John Wick hold appeal because of their believable humanity, as well as their snappy dialogue, which provides an important counterweight to the mayhem. Unfortunately, Ryker is a largely uninspired representation of a post-9/11 veteran as viewed by Hollywood.
As a veteran myself, I found it disappointing that Rossi gave Ryker no register other than angry jarhead. The Handler is ultimately a disservice to the genre because Rossi includes all the worst parts of these action classics with none of the aspects that made many of them so memorable.
"…the fights are decently choreographed."