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Film Review: ‘Camino’

An assignment in the Colombian jungle turns life-endangering for photojournalist Zoe Bell in this competent but unmemorable actioner.

Zoe Bell, Nacho Vigalondo, Francisco Barreiro, Sheila Vand, Dominic Rains, Jason Canela, Nancy Gomez, Tecoch Huerta, Kevin Pollak.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4991652/

As if her first teaming with director Josh C. Waller on his 2013 debut feature, “Raze” — involving a sort of lethal female fight club — weren’t punishing enough, Zoe Bell gets pummeled (and occasionally shot) throughout most of “Camino.” This thriller abandons that earlier pic’s featureless underground interiors for dense jungle terrain, but otherwise similarly trades in violent action as our photojournalist heroine flees the anti-government freedom fighters who’ve turned on her. Set in 1985 Colombia, “Camino” is a competent but unmemorable B-movie that eschews any real political content in favor of simple, brutal survival melodrama with scant room for surprises in plot, character or directorial style. Bowing on VOD and iTunes March 8, just days after a limited theatrical launch, this resourceful low-budgeter should do well enough as a streaming item in various markets.

Having just won a photojournalist-of-the-year award for her coverage of war zones, Avery Taggert (Bell) is too cynical and surly to enjoy the moment, instead letting editor Donald (Kevin Pollak) pack her off immediately to another far-flung, potentially dangerous assignment. This time it’s tagging along with a small group of armed guerrillas/missionaries out to “save Colombia” by bringing medicine and revolutionary fervor to remote villages under expat Spaniard Guillermo (Nacho Vigalondo, writer-director of the inventive Spanish genre pics “Timecrimes” and “Extraterrestrial”).

His few followers range from idealistic, like Sebastian (Jason Canela), to borderline psychotic, like the trigger-happy Alejo (Tenoch Huerta). But the “mission” itself seems well intentioned until one night, when Avery happens to spy Guillermo conducting a secret transaction that casts great doubt on his personal motives. Worse, there’s another witness — an innocent village child — whose immediate demise Avery captures on film. Caught literally redhanded, Guillermo in turn fingers her for the murder, in order to erase both evidence and accuser.

This happens at about the half-hour point, leaving nearly 75 minutes more for a chase through the jungle in which Avery must outwit and occasionally off her pursuers. Meanwhile, some of the latter (also including Francisco Barreiro, Sheila Vand and Nancy Gomez) begin to doubt Guillermo, questioning why a famous, well-connected gringa would kill a child in order to smuggle drugs (his version of what happened). As Guillermo does not take criticism well, he soon becomes a deadlier adversary to his own troops than the one they’re stalking.

The eventful screenplay is by Daniel Noah (who also wrote Waller’s sophomore feature, “McCanick,” as well as his own directorial features “Twelve” and “Max Rose”), and was apparently written in great haste to take advantage of a narrow production window. Still, the intriguing premise of a wannabe-Che “people’s savior” turning out to be corrupt and increasingly mad isn’t exploited in any truly interesting ways. Though there’s one decent late twist, there are also glaringly implausible moments (such as the villain choosing to leave Avery alive at one juncture when he could easily finish her off), and neither the situations nor the character writing ever rise above workmanlike survival-action formula. That would be OK if “Camino” conjured more suspense, mystery or exotic atmosphere from its simple narrative concept, but Noah’s direction is uninspired. As in “Raze,” the violence is incessant enough to be borderline monotonous, convincingly brutal yet handled sans any particular visceral flair.

Bell is back on terra more firma after her awkward if brief Annie Oakley-like turn in “The Hateful Eight.” But beyond the role’s tailor-fit strenuous physicality, the former stuntwoman still seems a mite thin onscreen presence as a lead — admittedly, not an unusual deficit when it comes to athletes of one discipline or another promoted to headlining action movies. Other cast members (also including Dominic Rains as Avery’s husband in rote flashbacks) are decent if a bit conventionally glam in this context. Vigalondo doesn’t share that problem, though he’s not quite as threatening or commanding as Guillermo should be.

Assembly is solid: Noah Greenberg’s widescreen lensing of outdoor locations (with Hawaii largely standing in for Colombia) is a highlight, as it was in last year’s Daniel Noah/Waller-produced “The Boy.” Brett W. Bachman’s editing maintains a brisk pace, while the score by Kreng (aka Pepjin Caudron) is often interesting if occasionally overbearing.

Film Review: 'Camino'

Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, March 5, 2016. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: An XLrator Media release of a Bleiberg Entertainment and XLrator Media presentation, in association with Organically Grown Prods. and La Panda of a Noah/Waller production. Produced by Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Ehud Bleiberg. Executive producers, Nicholas Donnermeyer, Barry Gordon, Zoe Bell, Nacho Vigalondo. Co-producers, Elisa Lleras, Michael M. McGuire, Jacob Horn, .

Crew: Directed by Josh C. Waller. Screenplay, Daniel Noah, from a story by Noah, Waller. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Noah Greenberg; editor, Brett W. Bachman; music, Kreng; production designer, Jess T. Johnston; art director, Helena Chao; costume designers, Shi Tang, Carly Molnaire; sound, Josh Bissett, John McFadden Jr., Sealtiel Alatriste; sound designer/supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Jeffery Alan Jones; special makeup effects, Cristina Waltz; stunt coordinators, Danny Kim, Craig H. Davidson; assistant directors, Heather Denton, Fe Bailey; casting, Akemi Bischoff.

With: Zoe Bell, Nacho Vigalondo, Francisco Barreiro, Sheila Vand, Dominic Rains, Jason Canela, Nancy Gomez, Tecoch Huerta, Kevin Pollak.

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