Movie Review: “Heatstroke”

ImageA veteran cast not given to overplaying, a competent director and striking desert Africa settings are the chief recommendations of “Heatstroke,” a survival thriller with murder, poaching, gun-running and hyenas as its active ingredients.
Paul, a hyena expert (Stephen Dorff) reluctantly drags his insolent teenage daughter (Maisie Williams) along on safari as he heads back to Africa to track his beloved laughing predators.
Dad, the iPad addicted teen complains, is all about “Hyenas, hyenas hyenas.”
Complicating matters is dad’s girlfriend, Tally, a crisis-hardened Russian search and rescue specialist used to being dropped into the world’s disasters to help out.
Jo is spoiled, rude and acting out, especially against Dad’s paramour.
“I wouldn’t mess with Tally, Jo,” he dad warns. “She’s tough.”
How tough? Since we’ve seen Tally, played by Svetlana Metkina (“Slingshot”, “Bobby”) in the opening scene, battered and bloodied and being chased across the desert by a Cessna, we’ve already figured that out.
Events conspire to put the teen and Tally on their own, with almost no water, in a desperate trek to survive. Gun runners led by the movies’ favorite Nordic villain, Peter Stormare (“Fargo”) are after them. But Tally is no pushover. Like Liam Neeson in “Taken,” she has “particular skills” that could serve them well.
Director Evelyn Purcell, whose decades of credits include “Borderline” and the romantic comedy “Nobody’s Fool” and whose ex-husband is Oscar winner Jonathan Demme, would have been better served doling out more examples of Tally’s survival skills — little “Survivorman” tidbits about getting water, how to ride out a sandstorm, what to do if a scorpion bites you and you have no first aid kit, etc. The few times she does, “Heatstroke” becomes more interesting. The annoying, accident prone and headstrong kid wants to rest more.
“Each hour we walk,” Tally snaps, “we are widening the (villains’) search area.”
But the film is far more conventional than that, relying on a leading lady without a lot of charisma or acting-in-English chops to enlist our empathy and make us her partner as she thinks and hikes her way out of this tough spot.
With villains cribbed from the generations of cheap thrillers that precede it and action scenes that have no novelty to them, “Heatstroke” starts looking like Adam Sandler’s “Blended” more by the minute — a movie the cast signed up for to get a free working African vacation out of it.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Svetlana Metkina, Brad Dorff, Maisie Williams, Peter Stormare
Credits: Directed by Evelyn Purcell, screenplay by Anne Brooksbank and Evelyn Purcell, based on the Hannah Nyala West novel, “Leave No Trace.” A Phase 4 Films release.
Running time: 1:33

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