Review: Vengeance: A Love Story

Anna Hutchison is a young mother viciously beaten and gang-raped in front of her young daughter (Talitha Bateman) by some local thugs. The first cop on the scene is Nic Cage, who had briefly chatted to Hutchison earlier in the night at a local bar. He takes a personal interest in the case, especially when the family of the perpetrators hires a slick lawyer (Don Johnson) who just so happens to be good friends with the clearly unsympathetic judge. The trial becomes a joke, and Cage is seething. Meanwhile, Hutchison is left an emotional wreck from the entire experience, struggling to make it through each day. Deborah Kara Unger plays Hutchison’s protective mother.

It’s interesting that at one point or another both Nic Cage and filmmaker Harold Becker were set to direct this straight-to-DVD schlocker from 2017. Neither ended up in the chair, as the film is credited to long-time stuntman Johnny Martin (tellingly his directorial debut). Both Cage and Becker (who left during pre-production) remain executive-producers however, and Cage is, and was always set to be the lead actor. I started off by saying ‘it’s interesting’, partly because there’s really nothing else interesting about the film. I also said it partly because I’m surprised that Becker would bother staying on in even an EP capacity on such a shoddy, shockingly paced, unconvincing mess of a film. I mean, I know Becker directed flat thrillers like “Malice” and “Domestic Disturbance”, but this is really hack-y stuff. If Becker and Cage saw something of worth in here…it must’ve been removed well before shooting actually started.

Speaking of messy, Kiwi actress Anna Hutchison is both the best and worst thing about this film. Early on her drunken flirt act isn’t cute, charming, or attractive it’s annoying and unconvincing. It drove me nuts. Then in her next scene with her daughter she comes across like a completely different character. No, it’s not just that she’s in ‘mom mode’ now, she’s seemingly a completely different person. It’s bizarre. The fact that things turn nasty very, very quickly from there (though those first two scenes are agonisingly drawn out) does explain partly why Hutchison gives a ‘bigger’ performance than usually necessary in that opening scene, but it’s still the wrong choice. However, once the film moves to the post-assault portion where we see Hutchison trying and failing to move on from the horrific experience, her performance is surprisingly good. Ironically, she comes across like a completely different actress for the rest of the film. If there’s a reason or two to see the film (and there’s absolutely not), it’s Hutchison’s performance for 95% of the film, with young Talitha Bateman impressing, too. Sure, Don Johnson gives just about the only decent performance of his entire career as a scumbag lawyer (and clearly having fun), but he’s not in it all that much to matter one way or the other. Other than those performances, this one’s an absolute stinker.

The first 50 minutes of the film could’ve and should’ve taken about 15-20 minutes tops, with nothing vital being lost. As is, because it’s so damn slow to develop the plot, there’s hardly any time left for cop Nic Cage to do the “Death Wish”-style vigilantism he’s clearly so itching to carry out. The transition to that part of the film as a result ends up being too rushed and unconvincing. Sure, I’d much rather watch the film Hutchison’s character centres around than the vigilante cop shit, but as is, it’s at the expense of a smooth, well-paced narrative. I’m all for having lofty aims, but you actually need to make sure you’re competent enough to know how to deal with things properly. It’s about as subtle as “A Time to Kill” as well, and nowhere near as watchable as that admittedly overlong John Grisham adaptation. As for Cage, he gives one of the most tedious, constipated performances of his entire career. For someone who believed in the project enough to help produce it, he looks bored out of his mind. Meanwhile, his hair here is ridiculously Travolta-esque to the degree that it’s more like Travolta than anything in his performance in “Face/Off”. I also think his character is involved in a massive contrivance early on where after meeting Hutchison at a bar, he just happens to be driving at night time for the little girl to flag him down. Special mention goes to poor Deborah Kara Unger. She’s never seemed much of an actress to me, but absolutely no part of her face seems remotely flexible anymore. It’s really sad to see, and if I’m wrong and it’s just shit acting on her part, then I apologise, but let’s just say she wasn’t this rigid in “Whispers in the Dark”.

I’m not overly a fan of the vigilante movie genre to begin with, but perhaps this film really ought to have taken the schlock route and just gone the fast and mean route. By focussing so much of the film on the victim before and after the attack, it throws the plot structure completely out of whack and also stops the film dead, pacing-wise after a while. Anna Hutchison sells the after-effects very well and there’s a couple of other decent performances, but everything else collapses around her. Long story short, if you’re gonna aim high…make sure you actually know what you’re doing. Based on a novel by “Foxfire” author Joyce Carol Oates, the screenplay is by John Mankiewicz (a prolific TV producer of such shows as “House”, “The Mentalist”, and “House of Cards”).

Rating: D+


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