Reservoirs of talent are dogged by a so-so script and styleless direction in “Body Count,” an after-the-heist road movie that sizzles here and there but ends up going no place special. Working for the first time with a name cast, Boston director Robert Patton-Spruill, who bowed in 1996 with the low-budget juvenile-delinquent ensembler “Squeeze,” draws reasonable perfs in this sophomore outing but doesn’t bring anything new to the overcrowded post-Tarantino table. Pic (aka “The Split”) went straight to video in January in the U.S., and on April 24 was dumped theatrically on one small screen in London by Polygram.
Theodore Witcher’s expletive-heavy screenplay opens with four no-goods fleeing a bungled art museum robbery in Boston. At their hideout, everyone starts blaming Chino (John Leguizamo), a short-fused Latino, for the death of the leader, Crane (Forest Whitaker). The group’s security-systems expert, Pike (Ving Rhames), suggests they all lie low while he goes to Miami to sell the stolen paintings. But mutual trust is already in short supply among the gang, so everyone tags along for the ride, including driver Hobbs (David Caruso) and fourth member Booker (Donnie Wahlberg).
Attempts to travel by more anonymous modes of transport, like bus and train, are capsized by their hot-blooded spatting, and they finally head south through Maryland and West Virginia by automobile. Booker ends up dead after a contretemps with Hobbs, who also remorselessly baits Chino throughout the journey. Flashbacks to the planning of the robbery, and its nervy execution, pepper the pic and also background the characters.
Just when the four-letter dialogue has about run its course, and deja vu is hitting the movie big-time, things perk up with the entrance of Linda Fiorentino as a mystery woman with a black eye and crashed car who gets a lift from the travelers. Aside from adding an element of mystery to the plot, gravel-voiced Fiorentino is one actress who can hold her own in such testosterone-heavy company, and her character plays a key role in the declining body count as the journey progresses.
Despite its cast, this is basically above-average vid fare, with few surprises in store and mostly get-it-on-the-screen helming by Patton-Spruill, whose only visual flourish is occasional use of close-ups for dramatic effect. Caruso, as the hard-as-nails driver, is best at the gangster-ish repartee; Leguizamo wildly overacts as a dumb, gun-waving psychopath; and Rhames and Fiorentino add touches of restrained class to their one-note characters. Whitaker, seen only in flashbacks, is no more than solid, given the material, and Wahlberg, before getting his neck broken, gets one of the best scenes in the script, revealing his low-profile character as perhaps the weirdest of all.
Action scenes are adequately staged, and tech credits solid, with no special gloss. Color on print caught made effective use of deep blacks, but was sometimes muddy in interiors.