Blood Father ✮✮✮

Mad Mel Returns

by Glenn Lovell

After a couple of career-damaging meltdowns, Mel Gibson made a very public show of contrition by doing a dark comedy about a family man who suffers a breakdown and by awkwardly laughing off insults from Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais. None of this made much of a dent, however. Mad Mel’s fans weren’t ready to forgive or forget; they weren’t convinced that their erstwhile hero had had that Come-to-Jesus moment. His apologies seemed, well,  disingenuous, self-serving.

Touted as Gibson’s “comeback,” “Blood Father” could be just thbloodat. A more than decent exploitation flick (think AIP’s “Hell’s Angels on Wheels” heyday), it brings the star’s career full circle as it showcases him in a tailor-made, at times self-parodic role of amiable outsider anxious to make amends. Like the original “Mad Max,” which launched Gibson’s career in 1979, this new vehicle is single-minded, unpretentious, cathartic. What’s more, it again features Mad Mel astride a rumbling customized hog.

Gibson, peering out from behind a mostly white beard and deeply creased eyes, plays a character named Link. He’s an ex-con tattoo artist who works out of a ratty trailer on the edge of the desert (set in and around Indio, the film was shot in New Mexico). A member of AA who pals around with his neighbor-sponsor (William H. Macy), Link appears to have owned up to all his failings — all, that is, but the loss of his teen daughter, Lydia, who went missing a while back.

Actually, Lydia (a smart, mouthy Erin Moriarty) ran away from home when her father went to the pen. She was taken in by a “realtor” (Diego Luna of “Y tu Mamá También,” “Milk”) who’s related to a Mexican drug czar. Strung out during the siege of a stash house, Lydia appears to have killed her shady boyfriend. Which is why some very nasty gang members and a cartel enforcer called The Cleaner are now on her trail.

Maybe it’s time to check in with the old man —

Tautly directed by Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13,” “Mesrine 1 & 2”) and co-scripted by Peter Craig from his novel, “Blood Father” shakes out as an extended chase-road picture, with father and daughter slowly bonding as they trade quips and flee gangbangers, the sicario, and Link’s old platoon leader (Michael Parks), who runs a Nazi/Confederate paraphernalia website out of his barn. Parks, who has cornered the market on beady-eyed Jim Jones loonies  (see “Red State,” “Tusk”), gets Lydia’s attention with a threatening speech about corporate American “buying up subversives.”

“Blood Father” features a number of well-orchestrated action scenes. The best — a joust/shootout on motorcycles — suggests Richet would be a good bet to direct the next James Bond.

Our advice to Gibson: Don’t be proud. Continue along this well-trod path. Solid, no-frills actioners like “Blood Father” won’t win awards, but they will rally your original base. They could even do for your career what action franchises did for Sly Stallone’s and Liam Neeson’s careers.

BLOOD FATHER  ✮✮✮ With Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy. Directed by Jean-François Richet; scripted by Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff from Craig’s novel. 88 min. Rated R (for profanity, nonstop violence)


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