Review: The Debt Collector
Scott Adkins plays a martial arts instructor whose dojo has run into financial trouble. A friend (Michael Paré) suggests a gig as a debt collector for loan shark Vladimir Kulich. With no other choice, Adkins (whose character is also a war veteran) accepts. He’s teamed with the more experienced but largely burned-out Louis Mandylor, and after a couple of early botches they make for an alright team. Well, Adkins does most of the heavy lifting since Mandylor seems a bit jaded and lazy, but still they make it work somehow. Complications arise when Tony Todd turns up as a formidable gangster named Barbosa, who hires the men to find an ex-employee who has been ripping him off. Adkins and Mandylor find the culprit, but something seems fishy about it.
Director Jesse V. Johnson (“Triple Threat”) and co-writer/Scott Adkins’ childhood best friend Stu Small get quite a few things right with this hardened action-comedy from 2018. Unfortunately, witty/clever dialogue is not among the film’s arsenal, and drags it down a bit despite a fine B-cast. Thankfully Johnson, Small, and Adkins would knock it out of the park with “Accident Man”, a very entertaining action-comedy made the same year. The all-B-grade-star “Triple Threat” was pretty good, too. This one’s a nice try at what it’s attempting, but modest in ambition and results. It fares best when it sticks to what Johnson and Adkins do best: Physicality.
Basically this is an attempt at a Shane Black-style action/black comedy (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, “The Nice Guys”), with a touch of “Tango & Cash”. The benefit in casting Scott Adkins as opposed to Robert Downey Jr. or Val Kilmer is that Adkins sounds like Jason Statham and kicks the fuck out of people, like in the effective opening scene. You don’t really get that with Iron Man or ‘Iceman’, do you? The first debt collecting gig with ex-pat Greek-Australian Louis Mandylor is genuinely funny too, it’s a total mess. When Johnson, Small, and the two leads are dealing with the violence and physical comedy side of things, it works. There’s a very funny running gag where Adkins seems to do almost all of the fighting, for instance. Any of the humour revolving around profane banter is pretty one-note, however. Some of the angry pissing contest dialogue stuff works, but it gets a bit dull after a while when they’re not smashing people with car doors. And it’s not really the fault of the actors, who play their antagonising, surly characters quite well. Even veteran B-actor Michael Paré gives his minor role more effort than anything I’ve seen from him in decades. Tony Todd and Vladimir Kulich do solid character work as well. It’s just that Adkins, Johnson and Small aren’t putting themselves to their best advantage here. Ambition is great, but you’ve got to pull it off. These guys don’t quite do that, unfortunately.
An attempt at a direct-to-DVD version of a Shane Black action/comedy thing, this one does have an occasional thuggish charm about it. However, the dialogue lacks sophistication and wit even for this sort of thing. So it’s ultimately not particularly memorable. The cast is fine, the script uneven. Nice try, though.