Mixing underworld crime meller and serial-killer horror, “The Prodigy” provides no real surprises premise-wise. But tyro helmer William Kaufman more than compensates for sometimes murky tale’s familiar genre elements with punchy ultra violence, vivid atmosphere and a first-rate tech sheen on a smalltime budget. Major collaborators on Texas-shot indie are sure to start fielding West Coast offers, while pic itself reps a small but smart pickup for rental and cable companies.
Truman (Ben Affleck-looking co-scenarist Holt Boggs) is a mob enforcer first seen posing as a cop in an attempt to shut down a rival syndicate’s operations. The tense standoff turns into a bloodbath with the mysterious, sudden appearance of a heavily disguised and armored third party dubbed “Claude Rains” because he’s feared in felonious circles as a sadistic, “invisible” hit man.
Only Truman appears to survive the melee, but Claude — who Truman left for dead — also lives and goes on to slaughter some of Truman’s boss’ posse, kidnapping a most unfortunate nephew for prolonged torture.
Truman’s enraged boss assigns Truman to find Claude, a pursuit that Claude perversely encourages while staying just one deadly step ahead, laying waste to hero’s intimates and fellow wise guys.
Among the imperiled are hothead sidekick Pat (Matt Beckham), tough-girl Internet jockey Ash (Diana Lee Inosanto) and hulking strongman King (Lawrence Varnado), not to mention the inevitable bland love interest (whiny-voiced Mirelly Taylor as Nicki).
Pedestrian dialogue, routine character conceptions and some fuzzy plot points leave pic a bit flat whenever it’s not delivering pure creeps or combustive thrills. Fortunately, that’s seldom — even given the fairly long runtime. (Midsection could be tightened a whit or two.) Aided by excellent lensing, editorial and design contribs, Kaufman creates taut suspense and dynamic action set pieces.
Special kudos are due fight choreographer Ron Balicki for visceral combat that looks punishing rather than cartoonish.
The few really tired devices — the gang’s forced pop-culture banter, killer’s mystical mumbo-jumbo in messages left at his crime scenes –make it clear how indebted pic is to the basic templates forged by “Reservoir Dogs” and “Se7en.” But style and enthusiasm lift it past simple imitation, with a cracking, bloody good B-flick the result.
Perfs are generally solid, tech aspects accomplished.