OK, a quick show of hands: How many of you actually knew there was a movie titled “I Am Vengeance” released in 2018? Wow, that many? Well, that’s probably why we now have a sequel, “I Am Vengeance: Retaliation,” even though it isn’t likely to reach beyond the niche audience of undiscriminating action fans who eagerly viewed its predecessor on digital and home video platforms.
Much like the original 2018 opus, “Retaliation” plays like a throwback to the era when similar low-budget fare routinely strained shelves at Blockbuster outlets, and provided gainful employment for such cult faves as Jeff Speakman, Gary Busey, Cynthia Rothrock and direct-to-video icon Wings Hauser. Here, the main attraction is Stu Bennett (aka WWE wrestler Wade Barrett), a taciturn tough customer who once again inhabits the lead role of John Gold, a British special forces soldier turned freelance mercenary turned self-employed vengeance seeker.
In “I Am Vengeance” — a kinda-sorta modern-day Western about a lone ranger dispensing rough justice — Gold shot, stabbed and otherwise manhandled drug-dealing ex-soldiers who had taken control of a provincial British town. But in the sequel, also written and directed by Ross Boyask, Gold is more of a team player: He’s recruited by former commander Frost (Mark Griffin, who obviously spent some time in the barber’s chair between “Vengeance” movies) to lead a small commando unit on a mission to capture Sean Teague (Vinnie Jones), Gold’s one-time comrade-in-arms.
True to the film’s subtitle, Gold has an old score to settle with Teague: Before making a career change toward criminal mischief, Teague betrayed Gold and other special ops comrades during a mission in Eastern Europe years earlier. Truth to tell, Gold would much rather kill than capture Teague, and takes little comfort in knowing his bitter enemy likely will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being snatched from his secluded hideaway. Still, Gold grudgingly accepts the job of leading the younger, less-experienced but not entirely unqualified Lynch (Phoebe Robinson-Galvin) and Shapiro (Sam Benjamin) on an assignment to grab Teague and spirit him off to an airfield from which he’ll be transported to the slammer.
Of course, nothing goes according to plan. Ambushes, roadblocks and assorted other impediments are dutifully provided en route by Teague’s henchmen, who make up in loyalty and resilience what they lack in marksmanship, and Jen Quaid (Katrina Durden), a formidable loose cannon with her own reason to punch Teague’s ticket.
In the tradition of ’80s and ’90s direct-to-video producers who cut corners and pinched pennies, the makers of “Retaliation” set most of their movie in and around a deserted industrial building setting, so that the virtually nonstop shootouts and fight scenes that fill the void where a plot should be are as visually monotonous as they are numbingly repetitious. To say the movie is strenuously padded would be to give it more credit for substance than it deserves. In fact, if characters weren’t constantly lying down their weapons to engage in extended bouts of hand-to-hand, foot-to-face combat, the movie might be a good 20 minutes shorter than it is. Indeed, it’s conceivable that “Retaliation” could inspire a drinking game among viewers: Each time someone sets aside a perfectly functioning handgun or automatic weapon in order to demonstrate their martial-arts mastery, you take a shot. But be forewarned: Participants in such a pastime run the risk of not remaining awake until the final scene, in which, appropriately enough, someone suggests: “Let’s get plastered.”
Here and there, amid the tedious sound and fury, you can spot some genuinely witty touches. Lynch and Shapiro are initially portrayed as flirty happy warriors who clearly delight in working with each other, and it’s a pity the movie didn’t make more of the chemistry generated between Robinson-Galvin and Benjamin. (The latter merits some kind of good sport award for having to spend much of his screen time clad only in red undershorts and black socks and garters.) And to give him fair credit, Bennett has sufficient comic chops to occasionally undercut Gold’s macho with self-parody. When someone cracks, “I wonder how many people he’s killed this week,” he gruffly replies, “Five.” Pause. “So far.” During moments like that, it’s fun to laugh with, instead of at, “I Am Vengeance: Retaliation.”