In a previous iteration of the movie business, a derivative B movie such as “Reprisal” would have provided gainful employment for actors such as Eric Roberts, Ice-T, and Gary Busey — who, truth to tell, likely would have delivered more than a fair share of down-and-dirty cheap thrills — and premiered on the New Releases shelf at Blockbuster Video stores everywhere. That was then, this is now: Fodder of this kind can land at least a smattering of theatrical engagements on the same day it’s made available on demand. And yet, it probably, and deservedly, will have an even shorter shelf life than direct-to-video product of yesteryear, despite the marquee value of Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo in lead roles.
Indeed, with all due respect to Willis, whose admirable professionalism permits him to bring a second dimension to the flat role he’s given here, the few curiosity-seekers who bother to track down this trifle in years to come almost certainly will do so because of Grillo’s finely calibrated portrayal of a Cincinnati bank manager driven to extremes after a criminal mastermind (Johnathon Schaech) kills a guard during a robbery at his place of employment. Grillo — whose star currently is ascendant after, among other achievements, his larger-than-life villainy in the China-produced smash hit “Wolf Warrior II” and his pedal-to-the-metal anti-heroism in the Netflix neo-noir “Wheelman” — is doubtless bound for bigger and better things. “Reprisal” may someday rank as a footnote in his career, but, really, that’s the only reason it will be remembered at all.
“Reprisal” begins with a robbery at the bank managed by Jacob (Grillo), whose devotion to his wife (Olivia Culpo) and young diabetic daughter (Natalie Sophie Butler) is emphasized with all the subtlety of someone dropping a bowling ball out of a fourth-floor window by his insistence on preparing a week’s worth of lunch for the pair. After the traumatic holdup, Jacob seeks advice on the subject of revenge from his next-door neighbor, James (Willis), who just happens to be a retired cop — just like Jacob’s late father.
One thing leads to another, much more speedily than seems probable or possible, and pretty soon Jacob and James are able to connect dots that somehow remain elusive for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. After they figure out where the criminal mastermind will pull his next heist, they attempt to intervene. But of course — well, let’s just say the movie gives Jacob a wife and daughter for a reason, and his adversary is hardly a novice amateur.
To give fair credit to director Brian A. Miller, two extended shootout sequences — one involving an armored-car robbery, the other depicting Jacob’s desperate efforts to save his wife and child — are sufficiently exciting to keep any home viewer distracted from ringing phones or barking dogs. And Willis sporadically suggests (especially when his character recalls trying to offer comfort to the child of a drowning victim) that he still has the chops to do a lot more than has been asked of him lately.
“Reprisal” is not a very good movie, but it leaves you with tantalizing hints that some people involved with it are capable of doing something much better.