With “The Hollow Point,” director Gonzalo López-Gallego and screenwriter Nils Lyew flash back to those not-so-thrilling days — specifically, the early- to mid-1990s — when Blockbuster store shelves were littered with direct-to-video neo-noirs in the same fatalistic vein. Almost every aspect of this violent yet dawdling indie, including the sound-alike redo of a late-career Johnny Cash recording used during the closing credits, seems generic and/or second-hand. Still, there are sporadic compensations for your investment of time: Ian McShane’s robust overplaying of an unapologetically scuzzy small-town lawman, John Leguizamo’s dead-serious villainy as a scarily resilient hit man, evocative lensing by David Jose Montero, and a few modestly inventive twists in the otherwise predictable plot.
The film takes place in an Arizona hamlet near the Mexico border where a few locals earn an off-the-books income by selling ammunition to a drug cartel. There’s a new sheriff in town, Wallace (Patrick Wilson), a straight-arrow prodigal son who returns to his old stomping grounds to replace Leland (Ian McShane), a beefy and boozy cynic with a reputation for shooting first and seldom asking questions later.
Wallace arrives just in time to get caught in the crossfire after an ammo delivery goes wrong. Because of their connection to a rash ne’er-do-well who ran off with a stash of drug cartel cash; Shepard (Jim Belushi), a sleazy used-car dealer; and Marla (Lynn Collins), Wallace’s incautious ex-wife, are on the kill list of the aforementioned hit man (Leguizamo). Wallace is determined to save at least one of those potential victims, and he doesn’t let a little thing like having his hand sliced off with a machete seriously impede his mission.
Wilson is persuasively resolute as the sheriff, and Belushi does sweaty desperation like a pro. But McShane effortlessly overshadows both of them — and everyone else in the cast — with a flamboyantly mannered performance charged by alternating currents of contemptuous sarcasm and pessimistic gruffness.
In between swigs from a very large bottle of whiskey, he runs the gamut from waxing philosophical (“It takes a willing hand to punish horrible men!”) to issuing florid insults (“You are not an unfortunate man, you are an auspicious parasite!”) when Leland isn’t offering dire warnings about the threat to his community posed by murderous “bogeymen.” Chief among the latter: Atticus, the relentless assassin effectively played by Leguizamo as only slightly less indestructible than Jason Voorhees.
Fairly early in the proceedings, “The Hollow Point” establishes itself as the sort of movie in which just about anyone might wind up on the wrong end of a gun, or a machete. As a result, some viewers may be reluctant to care about any character’s outcome. On the other hand, the final scene is hugely satisfying primarily because, at long last, the right person is killed by the right killer. That has to count for something.