“So it begins” is a pretty optimistic line on which to end a would-be franchise-starter — and one not necessarily warranted by “Corbin Nash,” a solemnly silly mashup of ideas from “Blade,” “Batman” and “Sin City,” accomplished on a much lower budget than any of those far, far better films. Still, it’s a movie that’s resourcefully accomplished on comparatively slim means, and less choosy fantasy action fans will find things to enjoy in its foamy cocktail of vampires, kickboxing and neo-noir. Others may be drawn by the bizarro factor of top-billed Corey Feldman as a campily cross-dressing bloodsucker.
Regardless, this is the kind of not exactly good movie that a certain type of fanboy (or girl) will pronounce good fun, or at least a passable guilty pleasure. Marking the second feature for the English Jagger Brothers — Ben directs, Dean stars; both produced and had a hand in the screenplay — this U.S.-shot effort’s genre trappings will surely translate into wider exposure than that of their first, 2014’s little-seen rock-band drama “The Paddy Lincoln Gang.” “Corbin Nash” opens on 10 U.S. screens this weekend.
A surfeit of urban aerial views accompany Malcolm McDowell (as the Blind Prophet) chewing voiceover prose like “This is a city of sinners … where the damned and forsaken walk the streets.” So it doesn’t take long to realize that this is the kind of movie where we’ll soon find ourselves inside a strip club.
After her shift, dancer Macy (Fernanda Romero) exits to find a half-naked, near-dead man dumped on the sidewalk. It’s the titular character, played by ex-extreme sports/MMA athlete Dean S. Jagger (no relation to the late Hollywood thesp) with a hulking physique and standard tough guy’s rasp. A cop who boxes on the side, he was raised by an adoptive father (the very briefly seen Bruce Davison, his name misspelled as “Davidson” in the credits) after his parents’ “mysterious” deaths. Macy and Corbin (now somewhat recovered), are having a drink in a bar when approached by a stranger (Rutger Hauer) who informs Corbin that he is descended from a long line of demon hunters, and that it is his duty to avenge his parents and carry on their fight against evil.
The somewhat awkwardly organized script flashes back and forth haphazardly. It has already announced that we’re in “New York, one year ago,” and now informs us it’s “Los Angeles, six months ago” — distinctions not aided by the fact that these flashbacks (which occupy most of the runtime) all pretty much feature the same nocturnal soundstage look. In any case, it’s in L.A. that Corbin and fellow police detective Frank (Chris Pardal) are investigating an epidemic of disappearances. They soon cross paths with none-too-inconspicuous perps Vince (Richard Wagner) and Queeny (Feldman). These vampire lovers feast immediately on some unlucky citizens, while dragging others to a dungeon-like lair, where they’re kept for food and/or sportive entertainment. While Frank escapes the encounter with just some notable claw marks, Corbin wakes up in a subterranean hell, where he’s forced to fight other prisoners. At about the two-thirds point, we’re back to the present tense of the film’s beginning, with our hero having survived his ordeal as a supernaturally changed man, albeit one still committed to killing the smirking baddies.
“Corbin Nash” manages to seem colorful and busy enough despite various restrictions, not all of them budgetary, as to the scale of its action and spectacle. Given star Jagger’s background, the fights aren’t all that elaborate or interesting. But his director brother camouflages such limits passably as stylistic decisions: for instance, cloaking the audience at the fights in pitch-blackness so as not to require extras; laying on the slo-mo; or dressing modest sets in garish washes of colored lighting. There’s precious little originality here — certainly not from the routine percussive bombast of Russ Irwin’s score — but there is some energy and showmanship.
“Showmanship” is also a fair and neutral term to apply to Feldman’s performance, which is neither funny nor scary (nor, god knows, sexy). But it doesn’t lack for flamboyant commitment. In a major release, such a willfully grotesque villain would likely be decried as transphobic, but here (as with a very similar turn by KISS’ Gene Simmons as “Velvet Von Ragner” in 1986’s under-appreciated camp action fantasy “Never Too Young to Die”), it can be tolerated as simply the ripest limburger in an unabashed cinematic cheese shop. If Jagger carries the air of a stuntman promoted to speaking role rather than demonstrating any star charisma, his macho stolidity works well enough in this semi-cartoonish context.
The rest of the cast is fine, although given McDowell’s place in film history, one wishes the actor didn’t ham it up quite so mercilessly in quite so much dreck these days. Surely he could lend a tinge of self-protective mockery to lines like: “We all have a shadow side, young man. I sense yours is a strong one.” But he does not. There are no prizes for guessing just who here portentously intones, “So it begins.”
If “it” continues on to a sequel or two, let’s hope the formula expands to encompass some better-defined mythological backstory and more distinctive violent action than the T&A that just naturally seems to surge onto the screen at practically anyone’s approach.