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After a botched robbery, a local crime syndicate sends a rookie enforcer to take care of a loose end. When the hit goes sideways and his civilian girlfriend ends up missing, her brother, Rodd, a mild-mannered guidance counselor, conducts an exhaustive search through the city to find her. With the support of a martial artist instructor, Bruce, the pair consistently becomes overwhelmed by a violent outfit of criminals looking to silence them. However, Rodd has a mysterious and dangerous past of his own, and with the help of his friend, they formulate a plan to take on the organization in this nail-biting action thriller.
"Oh Goody", you might say. "Another micro-budget gangster / revenge action movie". While a market exists for cheap horror movies, I've found out (the hard way) that there's just little public interest in cheap action movies. What low budget, often-indistinguishable action movies that luckily do make it to the DVD bargain bin always star some faded action star like Steven Seagal, Dolph Lundgren, or Van Damme. So, I have to applaud any filmmaker out there brave enough to tackle the action / crime genre with no stars or any other big high-concept "hook" to it to speak of. BLOOD RELATIVE, a down and dirty little action movie, has a lot of low expectations to battle with but I have to say it pleasantly surprised me.<br/><br/>The Good:<br/><br/><ul><li>An extremely unpredictable plot for the most part. To keep a film like this fresh, you have to keep the audience from guessing what's coming next because we've all seen this a thousand times before. This film rarely falls into convention.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>Excellent use of martial arts and professional fight scenes right up there with anything you'll see in a million-dollar Canadian direct-to-video action movie starring someone like Bren Foster, Luke Goss or Darren Shahlavi. Ozuna in particular adds a Dwayne Johnson-esque presence, even wielding a large chunk of wood while he Walks Tall in one particular scene.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>The final gunfight makes up for a lot of shortcomings in the previous gun battles in the film. It makes all the difference to see practical squibs and real weapons firing blanks as opposed to the usual CGI stupidity you'll see in films like this.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>A few of the cast members to very credible jobs playing hit-men and henchmen. A few of the lower-level thugs at the boxing gym particularly put in such on-target performances that I have to wonder if they were actually acting at all. Hats off particularly to Liz Clare and James Allen Brewer who fully commit themselves to their parts. </li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>Better sound than you'll usually see in a movie this small, with good subtle dialog scenes well captured, particularly in the first third of the film.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>A few surprisingly beautiful shots here and there, especially where the woman hides out near the ocean.</li></ul><br/><br/>The Bad:<br/><br/><ul><li>The middle section of the film sags a bit with the micro-budget often revealing itself, annoyingly so, through some uninspired dialogue scenes with mismatched eyelines, a few weak/uneven performances, and a lack of lighting in many scenes.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>A few key plot elements make little sense and/or never get resolved. At one point a character steals another's car and smashes it up, leaving it at a murder scene, but the other character (who we must assume is really stupid because he leaves his finger-print covered knife at another crime scene later in the movie), doesn't ever ask later on about what happened to his car.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>During the fights and chases, the suspension of disbelief gets compromised by an apparent over-respect for private property and the lack of money for proper stunts. For instance, nothing gets broken during the numerous fight scenes even when there's plenty of perfectly good TV's and bookcases around to destroy and throw at each other. Also notice that when a henchman chases a woman through an industrial area, they both seem a lot more interested in avoiding hurting themselves than moving as fast as truly terrified / angry people would.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>Some of the gunfire VFX and squibs earlier in the film are just not very believable, but at least kept fairly restrained. The worst offender has to be during a rooftop sniper scene where his muzzle flashes aren't even coming out of his barrel.</li></ul><br/><br/><ul><li>The blue steel color palette gets a bit irritating at times. I can see what they were going for and it works near the start, but could have used a little more TLC to give this movie a little more visual panache.</li></ul><br/><br/>Verdict:<br/><br/>Considering what the budget must have been, you'll be hard pressed to find something in the genre more credible. It's amazing that Fredianelli has directed upwards of 30 films but has yet to do one for a major (or minor) studio. That may change soon, assuming this film (or sections of it) finds the luck to land on the right person's desk.
Mob-thriller plays like a remodeled "Hit List", except for the chalky color schemes which transform the Bay Area into New Jersey and a smug, over-enunciating avenger who spouts proverbs in the voice of a perturbed home-room teacher. What kind of badass has to explain his badass past, and also use witticisms? A movie where you actually root for the "Death Wish" thugs over the vigilante is disappointing, especially when you have actors of Matt Monaco's caliber in the cast. These flaws, including numerous amateur performances, wouldn't be so pronounced if the actors weren't trapped in so many close-ups. The slick photography, throbbing synth soundtrack and San Francisco locales rescue all they can, and the movie's action has some surprises. But the CGI effects and martial arts segments are un-cathartic, lifeless and super rehearsed, including some thrown stunt punches I can't believe made it past a rough cut. Also, why is it in these movies nowadays, before men commit savage, premeditated violence, their girlfriends call them "***-hole"? Also hard to understand is the outfit of bumbling thugs and connected guys, who, even in upper management, are the last to hear about a street hit in broad daylight. Or a halfway house that allows its tenants to loiter on a front porch, drinking beer and insulting pedestrians. James Allen Brewer gives a notable performance as a frustrated member of what I think is director Michael Fredianelli's homage to the memorable hoods in Cassavetes' "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie". 2 potato sacks out of 5.
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