Jason Momoa, for those who missed the memo, is the man.
He made “Justice League” worth watching, all by his charismatic, beefy confidant self. He’s in “Frontier” on TV and has other projects lined up, based at least in part on the bounce that playing a burly-briny Aquaman gave him.
But after “Conan the Barbarian” and his turn in the early days of “Game of Thrones,” he’s made his mortgage on B-movie action pictures like “Wolves,” “Sugar Mountain” and “Road to Paloma.” Sadly, “Braven,” which hopefully will be his last B for a while, isn’t one of his better genre pictures.
It’s a formulaic thriller that underlines its foreshadowing and pins its hopes on big action beats — brawls, snowy chases, shoot-outs and archery. Even the title, his character’s surname, is just…so on-the-nose it’s funny.
Joe Braven is a lumberjack in the heart of Lumberland, the Pacific Northwest. A shady truck driver (Brendan Fletcher) has only to brush off Joe’s warnings about the snowy, slippery roads and mention holing up in Joe’s cabin for us to know where this is going.
The trucker’s going to wreck. And the drugs hidden inside the logs will have to be stashed “at your cabin” by the the smuggler (Zahn McClarnon, fierce).
Joe has other things on his mind. His aged tough-guy father (Stephen Lang, always good) hasn’t been right in the head since “his injury,” and may need to be institutionalized. His doting daughter is too underfoot for her own good.
And ducking into the cabin for a long talk with the Old Man brings them into conflict with the bad guys (Garrett Dillahunt plays their sadistic leader) who need to collect those drugs.
The Michael Nilon/Thomas Pa’a Sibbett script tries to rush past the obvious “Send his employee up there to get our stuff” solution to this possible dilemma. Cassidy (Dillahunt, of “12 Years a Slave” and “No Country for Old Men”) goes straight to “out flank him” by deploying heavily-armed henchman in the snow of Blue Mountain.
Joe and his crack-shot Dad will have to face them down, as reasoning their way out of this doesn’t seem to be an option. “I didn’t come here to kill good people” isn’t a very reassuring opening to the negotiations.
What ensues is built on Momoa’s vast physicality and whatever give-aways the screenwriters scribble into the story. Joe keeps axes, not rifles, in the rack over his cabin’s fireplace mantle. Think they’ll play a part in all this?
Stuntman turned director Lin Oeding’s confrontations, with rifles, knives, shotguns, pistols and bows and arrows, are barely inventive enough to get by. Some woodlore tricks work better than others, though having the walking tattooed muscle Momoa string his own hand-carved bow to deliver a little rough frontier justice is a nice touch.
The setting, not Momoa’s first turn in the snowy wilderness, is arresting, but the movie’s no “Wind River” or even “Walking Out” or “Edge of Winter.” Yeah, I’m a fan of the genre and this milieu, but there’s little memorable here.
Too many character actions seem inorganic, pre-ordained by the needs of the script. The set-up is strained, the quick move to violence perfunctory. Why not have McClarnon’s oily, foul-mouthed middleman try to settle this without gunfire?
“Get your SASQUATCH ass back in there!”
Oh yeah. Maybe that’s why.
Let’s hope Momoa is done with such pictures for a while (a remake of “The Crow” with him in the title role is in the works). But if not, he should go back to “Road to Paloma” and re-read that script. That’s what an engrossing B-picture built around his exotic looks and his screen charisma should look and sound like.
MPAA Rating:R for violence and for language throughout including some sexual references
Cast: Jason Momoa, Jill Wagner, Garrett Dillahunt, Stephen Lang
Running time: 1:33