The ’80s are back in cheap, imitative and soulless form with “Down and Dangerous,” a low-budget, Kickstarter-backed drug thriller from writer-director Zak Forsman. Relying on a synthesized score, over-saturated cinematography and frustratingly cliched dialogue, this is an extremely generic, truly empty tale of a drug smuggler involved with cops and criminals alike. Despite some initial teases in shot composition, nothing much sticks out beyond the generalities at play. It’s hard to believe the film will find much of an audience beyond its social-media backers.
The project’s weird background perhaps explains some of the limitations: Forsman’s father, Robert Sabbag, authored a 1998 memoir titled “Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade,” which was promptly bought for movie adaptation but has yet to make it to the screen. Unable to license the rights, Forsman instead crafted this original story made in his father’s honor, although there’s hardly anything original about it.
Paul Boxer (John T. Woods) is a smuggler who, on principle, always “runs solo.” After seeing a friend shot in cold blood, he takes action by going undercover with the drug cartel that set up the hit, while also toying with the police who want him to turn and make the big bust, while also hunting down his friend’s shooter. Add to that the fact that the cartel boss’ girlfriend, Olivia (Paulie Rojas), happens to be the woman he lost years ago and who, no surprise, still has feelings for him.
Forsman never makes any of these convoluted threads particularly engaging, sticking to double-crosses, confrontations and redemptive arcs that couldn’t feel more hackneyed or familiar; the dialogue similarly ranges from tedious (“You’re in over your head”) to banal (“This is important. This is something to hold onto”). “Down and Dangerous” is clearly a tribute to Forsman’s father, but one wishes this particular protagonist didn’t feel so derivative of the hundreds of other movie characters that have come before him.
Clearly influenced by the “’80s renaissance” of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” the occasionally minimalist staging makes good use of the widescreen frame, but these stylistic choices remain disconnected from the narrative. An early cat-and-mouse shootout in the desert is cleverly staged, but later car chases and fight sequences feel at once incoherent and budget-conscious, failing to deliver much in the way of spectacle or excitement. As shot by Addison Brock III, the blues and yellows of Los Angeles and Mexico feel overbearingly pretentious (five of the six first shots include some sort of lens flare), and the pulsating beats of Deklun’s score take on a similar monotony. Other tech credits are economically suited to the film’s slick style.