Revenge for the death of family members is a frequent boilerplate hook for mid-budget action movies, and that formula could hardly get a more perfunctory recycling than in “Acts of Vengeance.” This slick-enough mediocrity will pass the time tolerably for less discriminating genre fans. But it’s a little sad to see Antonio Banderas reduced to a B movie with grade-C material, even if you’re curious to see him, at age 58, rise to the occasion of the requisite training montage and kick-boxing moves that martial arts-oriented helmer Issac Florentine serves up here.
Frank Valera (Banderas) is a high-powered corporate defense lawyer who lives for his wife and daughter, but unfortunately has little time for them. Typically, he’s stuck at the office, then in downpour-stalled traffic long enough to miss his child’s talent-show recital. (Unfortunately, the audience catches her singing performance.) Remorse turns to concern when the duo don’t return home that night. Later, police lead him to their slain bodies in a storm drain, victims of a mysterious crime in which the perps didn’t steal their car. But the cops can’t seem to find any evidence trail leading to a suspect.
Frank falls apart, landing one afternoon in a bar where he discovers a backroom hosts illicit cage-fighting matches. Drunkenly causing a ruckus, he gets a beatdown that delivers a satisfying sense of penance — so he goes back for more of the same, again and again, until rescued by off-duty op Strode (Karl Urban). Later, Frank gets in another scrape, this time with some goons pimping a 13-year-old girl on the street. He ends up crashing through the window of a bookstore, conveniently landing atop a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophical tome “Meditations.” He takes this as a sign, though despite the pretentious text quotes on-screen throughout, the sole lesson he seems to glean from the Roman emperor is basically “Time to stop getting ass kicked and kick some ass!”
He ditches his job and devotes himself to getting buff, as well as training in fighting techniques (Florentine appears as a karate instructor). Matt Vanne’s clumsy, derivative screenplay leaves several logic gaps in its wake as the newly leaner/meaner Frank gets closer to his goal of delivering vengeful justice. There doesn’t really appear to be any meaningful relationship between the Russian mobsters that get a fair amount of attention here, and the character who turns out to have actually been responsible for the death of Frank’s loved ones. Nor do specially billed thesps Jonathon Schaech and Robert Forster get anything interesting to do in brief, disposable support turns.
A naturally stone-faced, more generically macho actor might be a better fit here than Banderas, who can’t help but seem a bit silly in de rigeur black leather jacket and shades, glowering his way though a script this dumb. He’s more at home in less testosterone-charged scenes with fellow Pedro Almodovar-alum Paz Vega, though her part as a hospital nurse who helps Frank is thankless. The film’s only stab at novelty is having its hero take a vow of silence until his mission is fulfilled — yet whatever atmospheric effect that might’ve had is spoiled by the fact that he never stops jabbering cliches in banal voiceover narration.
Over the last quarter century, Israel native Florentine has directed a lot of “Power Rangers” TV episodes, and B action pics prized by chopsocky fans if largely unknown to larger audiences. He’s typically worked with leads whose martial-arts expertise is their main qualifier, however. While Banderas and the ever-fit Urban throw themselves into the fray with enthusiasm — finally facing off in the inevitable empty warehouse showdown — the fights here aren’t anything special, especially in the wake of such recent bar-setters as the “Raid” and “John Wick” films.
“Acts” is set in an unspecified U.S. city, and if its streets seem rather unconvincingly mean, that’s perhaps because the film was actually shot in Bulgaria. Design and tech contributions are smoothly professional, though like everything else here, unlikely to leave any impression once the closing credits roll.