In vigilante fantasy “Acts of Violence,” it doesn’t matter how many of the titular acts occur — or how many people get killed, “bad” and “good” — so long as the goal is righteous, not to mention self-righteous. If a dozen or two folks die en route to a kidnap victim being rescued, well, that’s just the price that family, loyalty and courage required.
That sort of ratio might seem utterly crazy in the real world, but it’s routine in the kind of boilerplate modern action movie that director Brett Donowho’s feature in many way typifies. There’s no question here that taking the law into his own hands is simply what a real man’s gotta do. And there’s no more novelty in that reactionary message anymore than there is in rest of this slick and well-paced if uninspired time-filler, which Lionsgate is giving a limited theatrical launch simultaneous with its on-demand release.
After an opening childhood flashback that doesn’t make a lot of sense later on, plus a brief combat montage, we meet Army vet Deklan MacGregor (Cole Hauser) as he’s simultaneously asking for and angrily refusing help from a VA counselor. (The movie sees no contradiction in this, or in his similar attitude toward police later on.) He’s been plagued by anxiety and insomnia since leaving the service, his resulting reclusiveness handled with care by younger brothers Brandon (Shawn Ashmore) and Roman (Ashton Holmes). But it’s viewed as more of a deliberate insult by Roman’s fiancée Mia (Melissa Bolona), who appears a bit trigger-tempered herself.
While the boys are off at a strip-club bachelor party, she has an altercation with two pushy goons (Sean Brosnan, Rotimi Akinosho) at her own bachelorette affair, not realizing they’re in the employ of local drug- and human-trafficking kingpin Max (Mike Epps). Suddenly she’s thrown into the back of a van and drugged, waking up later confined in some industrial dungeon like many a young woman before her.
The MacGregors swiftly become aware of her plight, if not her location. Deklan immediately turns squad commander, arming his siblings (Brandon is also an ex-soldier) for a raid on a den where they find plenty of drugs, thugs and captive women but no Mia. This attempted rescue attracts the attention of Cleveland Police Detectives Avery (Bruce Willis) and Baker (Sophia Bush), who’ve long been trying to nail Max for various suspected crimes. Nonetheless, Deklan decides the brothers must continue to operate alone, expecting the cops will be ineffectual — even before anyone (including Avery) discovers Max is indeed being protected as a major informer by the FBI, hobbling local police efforts.
More high-body-count, guns-blazing faceoffs between ex-military civilians and criminals ensue before the desired result is achieved, albeit at great cost. You’d think the protagonists might wonder if they’d taken the right course when there’s a 40% casualty rate on their side, never mind the umpteen villains slain. But this is the kind of movie in which any such hand-wringing would be considered … you know, girly. (Care is taken even to make principal female Mia as kick-ass as possible — i.e. worthy of marrying a MacGregor — while still in need of rescue.)
This is also the kind of movie in which one must overlook the odd whopping gaps in logic, such as our heroes wreaking havoc on the bad guys’ operations, then being surprised when said bad guys follow them home to retaliate. Ditto the casting logic that finds ethnic minorities deployed only as various creeps who menace the upstanding white protags.
Most viewers will find it easy enough to ignore those and other fairly standard-issue action pic shortcomings while watching “Acts of Violence.” The script has been written compactly if without great imagination by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto, and directed likewise by actor-turned-helmer Donowho, whose work here reps an uptick from his prior, mostly B-grade horror features. Tech/design contributions are polished, the Cleveland locations are real, and the capable actors are well-cast.
Second-billed under Hauser (with whom he’s appeared twice before), Willis’ role is mostly a desk job. Still, he’s given a couple of bookending, blatantly “Dirty Harry” moments to reassure us that Avery is as badass as anyone here. In any case, the veteran action star — who must be surprised to see Liam Neeson now gets the pick of mainstream revenge-themed roles — will surely be standing his ground more extensively for the cause of vigilante justice in the forthcoming “Death Wish” remake.