“Armed Response” has less story than your average first-person shooter video game — and far fewer moments of exciting action or nerve-wracking suspense as well. Though headlined by Wesley Snipes, John Stockwell’s bland B-movie relegates its biggest star to second-banana status, which isn’t even the most severe problem plaguing this story about a group of military operatives sent to investigate a covert facility that’s gone mysterious offline. Sketchily plotted and sluggishly executed, this technophobic WWE Studios production is even more generic than its title and tagline (“No Retreat. No Mercy”), and is destined for a quick demise in theaters, with likely better luck on demand.
After a brief prologue in which anonymous grunts are slaughtered by an off-screen assailant while stationed at the Temple (a military compound run by advanced artificial intelligence that can flawlessly interrogate prisoners), Special Forces soldier Isaac (Snipes) recruits the system’s designer, Gabriel (Dace Annable), to join him on a mission to see why the base has suddenly shut down. He finds Gabriel grieving the tragic loss of his daughter, which serves as a random bit of character background that won’t in any way factor into the subsequent proceedings. Nonetheless, it’s one more feature than anyone else receives from the film, which soon has Gabriel hopping in an RV with Isaac and his crew, including Anne Heche’s non-descript Riley, to visit the Temple.
What they discover in this persistently dark, shadowy complex are the corpses of their comrades as well as an Afghanistan general (Mo Gallini) who’s on the FBI’s most wanted list, and who says he was personally invited to visit the Temple, plane ticket and all. That makes little sense, yet it’s a development far less baffling than the fact that the Temple — which scans captives as they’re strapped to a chintzy looking chair in a room full of futuristic glowing lights — has the ability to not only tell when people are lying, but to basically read their minds.
As bumps in the night mount, it becomes obvious that the Temple has gone sentient, at which point “Armed Response” takes its stock scenario and makes it ridiculous, with the Temple exhibiting the power to infect people with hallucinations, take them on virtual trips into the past (as if they were walking around in flashbacks) and electrocute them through just about any object.
This ghost in the machine setup comes replete with an actual specter, whose murky figure materializes from time to time, as well as the nonsensical idea that the Temple has developed a conscience. Alas, Stockwell’s film never coherently conceptualizes its mecha-baddie in a way that might actually generate thrills, and his direction doesn’t aid matters, full of bland compositions and clumsy scare tactics (prepare yourself for numerous jolt-style cuts set to loud noises). Just as its vision of ultramodern technology feels like it’s been transported from some corny 1950s sci-fi throwaway, “Armed Response’s” aesthetics strive to be stylishly flashy but come across as crude and clunky.
Snipes glowers with semi-interested concern as he and his squad fall victim to their steely environment, the actor understandably incapable of mustering much intensity for a part of almost stunning emptiness. It’s a role beneath the former action icon, who only fleetingly gets to show off his hand-to-hand combat skills — a situation that also befalls WWE star Seth Rollins, here making his big-screen acting debut. Though nominal lead Annable puts in a bit more effort as the nonsensical Gabriel — who’s both a computer wizard and a badass soldier — he’s similarly squandered by a script (by Matt Savelloni) devoid of detail, depth or ingenuity. Consequently, the only reasonable response to the film is to follow the Temple’s lead and shut it off.