A vicious cycle of revenge overwhelms a brewing black-vs.-Latino gang war in “Days of Wrath,” a full-bore genre item from director Celia Fox that should prove a reusable calling card for the Hollywood mainstream. Industry observers should note that, for little scratch, Fox and crew have produced an uncommonly slick gang-banger with a well-cast troupe of mostly young Latino and African-American thesp talent. Pages torn from the playbooks of both John Woo and John Singleton make this a familiar ‘hood item that should draw more than average indie distrib interest for theatrical and vid.
In a Los Angeles street jungle plagued by thugs with guns, Danny Boy (Wilmer Valderrama) is a predator without conscience, and his senseless violence sets bad things in motion. His gang attack on a hip-hop star (Faizon Love) ends up killing the mother of fellow gang leader/chop-shop owner Mario (Jesse Garcia); the victim is also the former g.f. of local TV station manager Byron (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Byron’s other link to the gang life is through his ambitious young reporter, Samantha (Ana Claudia Talancon), who walked away from her gang allegiances a few years ago. (An awkward early scene intros Samantha lecturing high school kids about gangswith teacher Laurence Fishburne, in a cameo, lecturing even harder.) Looking on all these folks with disdain is Anita (Lupe Ontiveros, in an oh-so-colorful turn), who considers grandson Mario a failure and hates Byron, who turns out to be Mario’s birth dad.
The interesting hook in Mitchell Kapner and Michael Markee’s screenplay (credited as being based on Fox’s screenplay) is that the usual gang-on-gang dynamic is abandoned for a bloody kind of gang unity — all for one against Danny Boy. Early on, the question is who will get to Danny Boy first. Later, after Danny Boy proves to be fairly brilliant, elusive and utterly fearless, the question becomes: How is this guy still alive?
Amid typical setups and dialogue scenes, the requisite quota of T&A, and an unconvincing side plot involving Samantha’s rivalry with a news anchor (Amber Valletta), “Days of Wrath” is built on a set of interlocking narrative gears that Fox allows to play out at full length. Even pistol-packin’ granny Anita gets her piece of revenge in a delicious neo-Hitchcockian scene, and Danny Boy gets his just desserts on a scale worthy of Scorsese.
Christine Sheaks’ casting, down to tiny roles, is generally spot-on, while the bigger roles held down by Morgan, Garcia and especially the impressive Valderrama, in a jet-black performance, are delivered with aplomb. Talancon, however, can’t begin to suggest the former gang chick under Samantha’s fresh makeover. Supporting standouts include Ontiveros; David Banner and Doug Hutchison as crime bosses; and a stunning Tasia Sherel as the tart-tongued mom of a son felled by Danny Boy. Taye Diggs, as a vet journo, seems to be in another movie.
Production package is certainly the film’s neatest trick, with Steven Fierberg’s widescreen lensing and David L. Snyder’s production design creating a sheen more common in larger-scale studio fare.