Synopsis: A decorated U.S. Marine captain embarks on a daring mission to save his kidnapped wife from terrorists in Morocco.
Stars: Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Ernie Hudson, Martin Donovan, Andy Garcia, Samy Naceri, Robert Knepper, Lilia Hajji
Director: Hicham Hajji
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: It’s an occupational hazard that with the number of films I see over the course of a month, they begin to blend together. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I have this outlet to get my thoughts in order so I can reflect back on a movie later if I need a reference point for a future work for an actor, director, or project from a similar genre. Too often, though, it must be said that the finer details of plot and character fade from memory just as soon as the publish button is clicked and all the social media posts have been shared. Only the most memorable manage to lodge into my noggin and not always for the right reasons.
I can’t say that Redemption Day is going to fare well if my recall skills are tested because not only did I barely make it through the film grasping to its dangling thread of a plot but it also felt like the film itself didn’t even remember where it was going when it started. I half expected this warzone action pic to be a rugged indie variation of a standard one-man-against-the-world sort of international rescue operation, something Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson, or even late-stage Kevin Bacon would have a stateside gruff field day with. Instead, it’s a slickly made but grossly unfocused bit of grandstanding for a writer and director that doesn’t know where the meat of the story is and a cast that mostly gets an acquittal for instilling some realistic drama into situations that are set-up for histrionics. Worst of all, it’s just a poorly timed release seeing that these types of war films are just going the way of the dodo, especially if you can’t rationalize a need for it with a compelling plot.
Haunted by an deadly ambush while on a humanitarian mission several years ago in Syria, U.S. Marine captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) has returned home a decorated war hero with PTSD battle scars he can’t shake. (A quick side note, I have nothing but huge respect for the men and women that serve but do films always have to portray them as damaged goods when they return? Maybe writers feel like they are paying respect to the military but continuing to show every vet welcomed home as broken does an overall disservice to their service. Not saying there isn’t a certain price paid in battle that stays with someone who’s lived it or that I don’t find it realistic, I’m just a little weary of some over-victimization of these honorable vets. Anyway…) Though working through his vivid dreams of the attack, he’s one of the lucky ones, though, being able to be embraced by his young daughter and archaeologist wife Sarah (Serinda Swan) who are exceedingly patient and understanding with his recovery. While he takes on the role of stay-at-home-dad, Sarah embarks on trip to Morocco, leading a team of her own as they are granted an opportunity to explore an ancient city that’s been uncovered beneath the sun scorched desert.
Though she’s supposedly in good hands both with the security detail that accompanies her with and a few overseas contacts Brad has called in, her caravan of high-profile international assets is unsurprisingly (to us) intercepted and taken hostage. Held for ransom by terrorists (who could not be any more stereotypical if the cast of SNL portrayed them reading cue cards) that demand money and are willing to spill innocent blood to get it, the time is ticking on Sarah’s life and Brad knows it. Discouraged by his government from getting involved and knowing the policy on negotiation with terrorists, Brad uses his curated military skills and knowledge of private global network dealings to get into the country where his wife and others are being held before its too late for all. Disobeying direct orders, going against his country’s own policies, Brad calls in a number of favors from previous informants and spies to get him closer to his wife.
I wish I could tell you all of this generates some sort of excitement but honestly the biggest thrill the movie offers is the potential that Sarah could take viewers into a city lost to the sands of time, Indiana Jones style. Why co-writer and first-time director Hicham Hajji chooses to make that Sarah’s mission that takes her overseas is a bit of a mystery, if only because that key discovery stuck in my mind for most of the movie. “What happened to the city?” “Was there a city at all?” “Will we ever see the city and does a monster live there?” You almost wish Hajji and his co-writers had the wherewithal to have their evil doers abscond with their hostages into this mysterious undiscovered land because that would have added some spice to what is a flavorless concoction. Once the kidnapping takes place the film is just a series of back and forth conversations between increasingly unpredictable men with guns…and the terrorists they are hunting.
There are few long-running TV shows I can say I stuck with through thick and thin but CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was one of them so I’m familiar with star Dourdan’s work from his time on that crime drama. He’s an unexpected choice for the lead of a feature so while he does serviceable work, there’s a particular spark missing that can’t be totally ignored. Still, he gets the job done in more ways than one and is convincing as the character, though he fares better in the tactical sequences than he does with the overly dramatic ones. There’s little time to establish a chemistry with Swan so the connection between them isn’t ever so strongly felt, but it doesn’t matter much because Swan has such pluck that you’d be rooting for her survival if her significant other was a rocking chair. She’s arguably the best actor in the film, certainly better that the absolutely jaw-droppingly terrible second level supporting cast. It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed the kind of terrible line readings that you’ll see here, especially from the actor that played the President.
With little to recommend in Redemption Day, it’s hard to put together what you should do with it should you come across it. Is it a good time waster? I mean, maybe? It’s not the kind of film you can put on as background noise because for as convoluted and confusing as the plot gets at times it does require a certain amount of focus if you want scenes to hold together at all. Then again, when the most interesting part of the plot involves a MacGuffin that reminds you of Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe you’re better off revisiting that Best Picture nominated classic instead of this which won’t garner a nomination for anything. Best to just let night fall on this one.