In the Blood
The Bride Wore Crimson
by Glenn Lovell
While no one was looking ‒ least of all mainstream film snobs ‒ actor-turned-director John Stockwell succeeded such 1970s action icons as Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) and Phil Karlson (“Walking Tall). Stockwell’s stock-in-trade is the efficiently turned exploitation thriller, often filmed against lush Latin American and Caribbean backdrops. Among his titles: “Blue Crush,” “Into the Blue” and the very unsettling “Turistas,” wherein a group of backpackers go off-road in Brazil ‒ and pay a stiff penalty.
“In the Blood,” Stockwell’s latest, comes with a twist: it’s a feminist vigilante-justice number in which captive and savior roles are switched. Mixed martial-arts champ Gina Carano (“Haywire”) stars as Ava Grant, who, after misplacing her new husband on an island honeymoon, kicks some serious local butt. The impressive supporting cast includes Cam Gigandet and Treat Williams as the missing spouse and his wealthy, anything-but-supportive father; Stephen Lang as Ava’s hardass sensei-father; Danny Trejo, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Amaury Nolasco as suspicious islanders who may or may not be in on the plot; and the always-reliable Luis Guzman as a maddeningly ineffectual police chief.
But, as it should be, Carano shoulders the heaviest load. Her newlywed with a dark past ‒ think Jeanne Moreau in “The Bride Wore Black” meets Michelle Yeoh ‒ is initially sweet and demure, but then, when husband Derek is threatened at a disco, she gives vent to childhood conditioning, kicking and socking half a dozen attackers into bloody submission. She comes on like a lioness protecting her cub.
Later, hubby is seriously injured in a zip-line fall. Only he never makes it to the hospital. What happened to him? Is he being held for ransom? The answer, when it comes, proves a variation on the denouement in “Turistas,” but it’s not nearly as grim or as plausible.
Without the aid of father-in-law or police, who, per recent tabloid headlines, suspect wifey in the disappearance, Ava goes it alone, canvassing some very dodgy neighborhoods and torturing suspects beyond their ability to sing. During one especially excruciating interrogation, she massages her victim’s lower abdomen, locating spleen, kidneys, etc. And when answers aren’t forthcoming, she moves on to exploratory surgery — with a handy pen.
Yes, if you’re on the squeamish side, this may not be the film for you. But if you like your action movies lean, mean and fast-paced, give this one a look. Stockwell and screenwriters James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin, collaborators on “Joy Ride 2,” leaven the violence with unexpected detail and humor. Their clever chases utilize GoPro, cellphones and color-coded dresses; elsewhere, look for a kitten and barber where you least expect them. About to deliver the coup de grace, Trejo, ever the family man, instructs, “All you kids close your eyes.”
For my money, the cathartic “In the Blood” ranks right up there with such shamelessly manipulative features as “Death Wish,” “Taken” and, for its feminist slant, Abel Ferrara’s “Ms 45.” When Carano’s back is to the wall and the adrenaline kicks in, even the meekest viewer will share the rush, cheering each strategically placed roundhouse kick.
IN THE BLOOD With Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Luis Guzman, Treat Williams. Directed by John Stockwell; scripted by James Robert Johnston, Bennett Yellin. 108 min. Rated R (for profanity, graphic, bone-snapping violence)