Pulses are likely to remain level during “In the Blood,” a serviceable vehicle for MMA champ Gina Carano (“Haywire”). In a plot that variously recalls “True Lies,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Kill Bill,” Carano plays a new bride looking forward to a tranquil domestic life who’s forced to deploy her secret, all-purpose beatdown skills after her husband disappears. Given the limited release (the film is opening simultaneously on VOD), B.O. potency will depend on getting the word out to Carano’s fans, who may already be used to watching her on pay-per-view.
Perhaps inadvertently, the kidnapped-vacationers plot revisits territory director John Stockwell explored in 2006’s organ-trafficking thriller “Turistas,” down to a subplot involving a nonconsensual transfusion. A prologue sets the stage on the mean streets of Bridgeport, Conn., in 2002, when Ava (played as a teenager by Paloma Olympia Louvat) witnesses and avenges the murder of her self-styled “outlaw” father (Stephen Lang) — a “biker drug lord,” per the press notes. Subsequent flashbacks reveal that he trained her to fight, drilling her with mantras like “Survivors have scars. Losers have funerals.” In one sequence, she fends off the advances of a group of buyers attempting to rape her.
From the prologue, the movie flashes forward to Arlington, Va., where Ava prepares to marry Derek (Cam Gigandet), whom we’re told she met at a needle exchange. The newlyweds begin to celebrate their nuptials at Derek’s family getaway in the Dominican Republic (filmed in Puerto Rico locations). One night, they’re encouraged by gregarious local Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova) to visit a dance club, where trouble ensues when local gangster Big Biz (Danny Trejo) attempts to cut in on the couple’s dance moves. The resulting brawl, with Carano weaponizing an ice bucket, seems to pique the interest of the area mob.
Ensnaring the Americans in a literal web, Manny invites them to go ziplining. The outcome is foreordained — one mile-long line is known as “the widowmaker” — but Stockwell still ekes out a fair bit of suspense, intercutting Derek’s camera footage with the broader action. When Derek falls, an ambulance is summoned — but after Ava races to the clinic, her husband is nowhere to be found.
All signs point to kidnapping, yet the Punta Cana police chief (Luis Guzman) seems to suspect that Ava was involved. Derek’s wealthy father (Treat Williams), convinced from the start that the bride only wanted his son for money, also thinks so. To prove her case, Ava goes full “Death Wish.” Not just a martial artist, Ava proves proficient in amateur surgery (“Oh, but you can live without your spleen, can’t you?”), for which Stockwell supplies at least one organ-cam closeup.
In “Haywire,” Steven Soderbergh suggested the best way to appreciate Carano’s talents was via a combination of long takes and quick, brutal action sequences. “In the Blood” isn’t on the same level of formal sophistication, though it has a couple of first-rate sequences, notably a handcuffed Ava’s escape from a supervised ferry bathroom visit. The jaw-drop factor that comes from seeing Carano’s moves is often spoiled because of too much cutting or, in the case of the dance club sequence, excess strobing. The climactic chase feels overextended, departing for too long from the star, whose lack of affect doesn’t dim her fearsome presence.
Tech credits are slick, perhaps overly so. An early montage of Ava and Derek’s honeymoon — replete with jet skiing, swimming, and semi-clothed nuzzling — could, unlike the rest of the film, easily double as the work of a tourism board.