“Disturbing the Peace” is a very familiar B movie that was once an A movie called “High Noon” but now is a B again — divested of its Oscar-grade moralizing, back to being something that might’ve starred Randolph Scott or Audie Murphy rather than Gary Cooper. Here it’s Guy Pearce doing the honors as a small-town lawman dealing with an invasion of murderous outlaws, this time arriving on motorcycles rather than horseback.
This is another robbery/hostage/police-standoff actioner à la director York Alec Shackleton’s last feature, the mediocre Nicolas Cage vehicle “211.” As unremarkable as it is, however, “Peace” is a notable improvement, with a better script and more credible atmosphere. It’s basic action entertainment of a somewhat old-fashioned ilk, giving viewers exactly what they expect in a borderline-hokey yet satisfying way. There’s nothing wrong with that when done well, which it is. Momentum Pictures opened the feature on 10 U.S. screens Jan. 17, simultaneous with digital and On Demand release.
A former Texas Ranger who left that employ after a tragic on-duty accident, Jim (Pearce) is now a U.S. marshal in podunk Horse Cave, Ky., which is sleepy enough that he can drown his lingering guilty sorrows in the occasional booze-up without getting too much flak. But this particular hung-over morning, he and deputy Matt (Michael Sirow) — who together comprise the entirety of law enforcement hereabouts — note a couple rough-looking bikers seeming to case the town. The strangers also cause a scene at the local diner, where Jim’s waitress squeeze Catie (Kelly Greyson) proves she can dish out more than breakfast plates when pushed around. One of the men thus lands in jail, and an entire motorcycle pack is soon riding to his rescue.
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But that isn’t their real reason for visiting Horse Cave: They know the local bank is expecting a large influx of cash from an area casino that afternoon. To intercept it, they cut off the town’s power supply, take over the bank, hold hostages in the church and wait for the armored truck to arrive.
Though he hasn’t handled a firearm since accidentally killing his partner a decade earlier, Jim isn’t about to take this lying down. After briefly getting held hostage themselves, he and Matt manage to escape, then set about winnowing the invaders’ ranks by booby traps and other means. Not only are they dealing with bad hombres more than willing to kill a civilian to prove a point, or just out of spite, but the villains’ leader, Diablo (Devon Sawa), turns out to bear a grudge against the town in general. “I guess I’m like the prodigal son that’s back to collect his dues,” he says — former-lawman-turned-novelist Chuck Hustmyre’s screenplay is seldom afraid to state the obvious.
But he’s also penned a solid action yarn unfolding largely in more-or-less real time, executed with an assurance that eluded Shackleton in the vaguely similar (but more urban) “211.” There’s nothing particularly inspired about “Peace” either conceptually or stylistically, and there are plenty of details to pick at: The town’s mysteriously reduced population during the crime spree (requiring fewer extras for the bulk of the run time); the number of missed shots by expert shooters; the way every nearly woman with a speaking role seems to be a duplicate of the same long-haired sexpot blonde in tight jeans and a midriff-baring tank top.
But “Peace” is self-aware enough to excuse such elements as genre homage, as underlined by the old-school Western motifs of Michael Thomas’ score, as well as one scene in which Pearce leans against a wall of Western movie posters, just ’cause. The movie takes itself seriously enough to work as a thriller, albeit not so seriously that various credulity-stretching moments get an unintentional laugh — at least not until the last 10 minutes or so. (That is, the last 10 before an inexplicably slug-slow final credits crawl, which itself takes nearly 10 minutes.)
Though there are some amateurish turns in small roles, the principal actors handily fill out archetypal characters hardly meant to be three-dimensional. Pearce reprises the laconic squint and no-nonsense walk of umpteen silver-screen good guys so thoroughly macho their hips seem to have been set in granite. Stock nemesis Sawa’s henchmen aren’t given much individual business that might live up to their cartoonishly badass names (Pyro, Dirty Bob, Lugnut, Shovelhead), but at least they look the part.
The overall packaging is professionally straightforward, with a clean, crisp look to DP Curtis Peterson’s images, and pacing from editor Michael James that is brisk but not hyperbolic.