Kill Order

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/07/18 10:58:31

"Yet another shady organization making better-than-usual super-soldiers."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: "Kill Order" is very close to the line between where one stops worrying about the actual quality of a script or the performances because it's the physical action that is going to deliver the return one's ticket price (or rental fee, or time that could be used for something else). It's dumb but occasionally lively, and the fights certainly have a lot more effort put into them than the average Canadian B-movie gets. It's on the wrong side of that line, sad to say, but one appreciates the effort.

It introduces the audience to David Lee (Chris Mark), a teenager living with his uncle Andre Chen (Daniel Park) in the sort of starkly empty apartment that screams "on the run", although from inside it's kind of hard to connect those nightmares with repressed memories and the seizures with brainwashing. He's met a nice girl, May (Jessica Clement), and he's doing all right. At least until a bunch of black-clad goons bust into his classroom to try and kidnap him and a martial-arts switch flips in his head, and then it's time to run.

There is, of course, a shady organization behind this, which for the sake of being cool and hopefully not too cryptic is just called "the Organization", and while that's not the entirety of what the viewer learns about it, the impulse to be generic doesn't do the movie much good. Donald Westlake could get away with "The Outfit" in his Parker novels because half the point was that the mob had become utterly corporate and bloodless, and the John Wick movies can avoid proper nouns because they provided a lot of other interesting details. Here the audience gets none of that, just a few affordable genre pieces put together, and maybe about half of what is going revealed before the movie stops, implicitly saying that a sequel or a series will pick up the threads but not exactly giving the audience any particular reason to care about that.

Well, not entirely no reason; there's the action, which is the martial-arts equivalent of the copious gore that flows in horror movies of similar scale, and that's meant in a good way - writer/director James Mark enjoys this stuff, and the audience can see things click into another gear when the fighting starts. Actors whose performances were wooden suddenly become light on their feet, exchange a lot of blows before the editor cuts to another shot, and even let the bottled-up frustration or pain that their characters are feeling out rather than trying to deliver lines without over-emoting. It is admittedly kind of second tier, in that if you watch it too soon after some of the good stuff from Hong Kong you'll pick up on the extra fraction of an inch that keeps you from believing that some of these blows are connecting, or feel like the launch angle when things go the wire-fu route is somewhat off. It's nevertheless a better flavor of action than a lot of what gets made in North America, the sort of thing where it might be more lack of time than talent which sometimes holds the filmmakers back.

That competence with the action elements just means that it might be worth seeing this crew again, though, not that any particular affection will develop for this particular story. Chris Mark isn't bad as David, even if he is on the mature-looking end of people who could plausibly pass for high-school students and might need a little time to hone his acting chops to the same level as his screen-fighting skills. He's got a decent-enough cast around him, although none really get a hook. Maybe it's them, maybe it's James Mark's script and its lack of specifics, or maybe it's his direction which never presents people differently as they do different - or even opposing - things.

Give Mark and his colleagues their due; "good fight scenes" are more than a lot of sci-fi movies about enhanced young people hunted by shady-but-nebulous organizations have. That's an awfully low standard, though, especially for a movie that apparently expects to hook its audience enough to watch another one in a couple of years.

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