Retrograde thriller is an affectionate pastiche of '90s-era action thrillers, served with fan-friendly brio.
Infused with an all-inclusive affection for 1990s action films — not just multiplex spectacle, but the sort of direct-to-video fare that employed the likes of Michael Pare and Wings Hauser — “Gridlocked” is brutally and divertingly efficient as an old-school, high-body-count shoot-’em-up. While the premise may be a hat-tip to “The Hard Way,” the seriocomic 1991 actioner that featured James Woods as a hardboiled cop forced into a ride-along partnership with movie star Michael J. Fox, the focus is an intense heroes-under-siege situation. Genre fans and other B-movie aficionados likely will feel they got sufficient bang for their bucks after renting or streaming this throwback pastiche.
Dominic Purcell of TV’s “Prison Break” is suitably intimidating when it comes to dishing out swift kicks and snide remarks as David Hendrix, a veteran New York cop who’s temporarily sidelined from his post with a Strategic Response Team after being wounded in the course of duty. Fortunately, his injuries are not serious enough to keep him entirely out of action. (He’s still capable of completing his quota of butt-kicking and limb-snapping while apprehending drug dealers and similar malefactors.) At the same time, his temporary lone wolf status makes him the improbably perfect candidate when Brody Walker (Cody Hackman), a self-indulgent young action movie star, drunkenly punches out a TV reporter, sentenced to tag along with a real-world police officer as part of a court-ordered community service agreement.
Hendrix already has trouble with anger-management issues that stem from his demanding job, his emotionally clenched attitude, and his chronic inability to make his cigarette lighter work, so it’s no surprise that his surliness metastasizes during the early phase of his partnership with the narcissistically clueless Walker. And things only get worse after the two men bond — or at least improvise a nonaggression pact — over beers.
Working from a predictable but serviceable screenplay he co-wrote with Rob Robol, helmer Allan Ungar contrives to put the mismatched pair in the wrong place at the right time by having Hendrix invite Walker to his secluded SRT outpost, so they can hang with a small group of Hendrix’s comrades in arms — including a grizzled security chief played by Danny Glover — and run a training exercise or two. They arrive just a few minutes before the facility is attacked by heavily armed mercenaries set on a seizing a MacGuffin-class something in the place’s underground storage area. Carnage ensues.
With all the relentless repetition of a videogame gauntlet, “Gridlocked” strings together a series of setpieces in which opposing sides are decimated by gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand combat within the confines of the SRT facility. Occasionally, Hendrix converses with his fellow cops — one of whom, of course, isn’t what he/she seems — while Walker struggles to find some way to be more than a nuisance. Meanwhile, Korver (Stephen Lang), the mastermind leading the mercenaries, finds ever more reasons to criticize the competence of his minions. There is precious little in the way of novelty here, except perhaps for Hackman’s borderline courageous efforts to make Walker more obnoxious than absolutely necessary, as if the actor Googled “Justin Bieber’s bad behavior.”
Ungar brazenly repeats stratagems from dozens of good, bad and middling action movies, and actually makes a wink-wink joke of his recycling by casting Lang, the chief bad guy of “The Hard Way,” as an even worse guy here, and giving Glover just cause to repeat his signature line from the “Lethal Weapon” franchise. Genre fixture Vinnie Jones also drops by, huffing and puffing and picking up an easy paycheck as Korver’s big bad lieutenant.
The end result is a surprisingly tasty dish of reheated leftovers, spiced with a few impressively staged fight scenes and served with fan-friendly brio. For those who like this sort of thing when it’s reasonably well done, you’ll find “Gridlocked” is reasonably well done.