The financial crisis left countless Americans economically devalued and emotionally demoralized, but only one was desperate enough to pick up an assault rifle and strike back. Dominic Purcell plays that guy — a fictitious avatar for the country’s collective outrage — in Uwe Boll’s “Assault on Wall Street,” an ugly, unusually audience-pandering thriller from the prickly German director behind such mass-killing sprees as “Postal” and “Rampage,” this one playing like “Margin Call” with grenades. After half a dozen botched vidgame adaptations, this risible mad-as-hell subgenre could be Boll’s forte. Opening in one theater and on-demand, the low-budget effort will go virtually unnoticed.
Whereas most auteurs view filmmaking as an art form, Boll treats it more like a form of anger management, working out his aggression one schlock opera at a time. Now that audiences have grown bored of his brand of incompetence (online, he’s known as the worst living director), Boll has no choice but to rethink his strategy. Shot in Vancouver, “Assault on Wall Street” — whose original title, “Bailout: The Age of Greed,” risked appearing slightly lower in VOD listings — marks an incremental step toward giving audiences what they want: if not coherent narrative, then a chance to vicariously mete out retribution on the white-collar criminals responsible for crippling the country’s economy. And yet, the film seems inexplicably tame, the least interesting execution of a radical concept.
Best known for his above-the-law role in “Prison Break,” Purcell plays Jim, an ox-like armored-truck guard — all glassy eyes, vacant expressions and Stallone-style line readings. While Jim protects other people’s money for a living, Wall Street fat cats pillage his own life savings via shady investment scams. Despite a flurry of news bites designed to agitate Occupy Wall Street types about a massive rich-get-richer conspiracy, the pic pins all of Jim’s woes on a single CEO (John Heard). Sitting in a near-empty office, the corrupt exec orders a roomful of traders to unload the company’s bogus real-estate fund, making Jim’s investment worse than worthless: It puts him $60,000 in the red.
The timing is beyond unfortunate, with Jim’s wife (Erin Karpluk) undergoing brain-tumor treatment and the insurance company capping their coverage. In a more traditional genre pic, the obvious course would be to have this inside man rob his employers or to follow the case from the cops’ p.o.v. (as it happens, Jim’s best friends are cops, played by Keith David and Michael Pare). But Boll’s empathies lie elsewhere, asking audiences to side with the terrorist — ironic, considering all the money the helmer has lost his investors over the years.
Credited with the script as well, Boll frontloads the film with conflict and then spends its second half giving auds their extended revenge fantasy. This doesn’t qualify as an effective dramatic strategy, however, since the first hour proves a melodramatic slog (full of downbeat meetings with lawyers, bankers and doctors), after which nothing stands in Jim’s way. Again, solutions exist to make this approach work, such as opening with the character in custody and flashing back to discover what happened, but Boll ignores them.
Instead, “Assault” plays like visually bland vigilante porn, which Boll and editor Thomas Sabinsky manage to render confusing via scrambled montages of Jim researching his prey (he laughably infiltrates the boiler-room environment posing as a daytime janitor), holding target practice in public and executing attacks on seemingly random suits. The only way this equation works is if audiences are themselves so upset that they buy into Jim’s behavior.