British martial arts star Scott Adkins ventures into “Get Shorty” territory with “The Debt Collector,” a brute brawler of a B-movie, but a bloody-minded bore.
He plays “Frenchy,” owner of a “traditional” martial arts dojo that has him deep in hock. So he begs his partner (Michael Paré) to hook him up with a side hustle the partner squeezes in — debt collecting for hire.
Tommy (Vladimir Kulich) is the boss, not a “shylock” but a guy the underworld lenders contract to get their debts collected. Tommy pairs Frenchy up with Sue (Louis Mandylor of the “Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies), a gruff alcoholic with a vintage Caddy and a grim attitude about the work.
He’s got a lot of rules for the “newbie” that first day. Remember to “think of these Johns as slabs of meat,” he counsels. “A little head butt” gets you in the door quicker than anything else.
He tosses “Frenchy” the keys with a “We drive on the right side of the road here,” and “watch my whitewalls,” and they’re off.
Every delinquent borrower has a gun, or enormous bodyguards. Sue and Frenchy punch their way through the seedy side of suburban LA, delivering bloody warnings, collecting cash and meting out “punishment” according to the numerical “level” Tommy has assigned each case — a slap around here, a kneecapping there.
It’s amoral work which has driven Sue to drink, but Frenchy supposedly still has some moral compass.
“Moral compass in this job is like a pinless hand grenade,” Sue growls. No, that makes no sense.
The banter is offhanded at times, groaning “So what’s YOUR story?” personal history at others. One power broker explains is unwillingness to repay his loan with “I’m parsimonious.”
He hears an English accent, he figures the guy’s educated. No, he’s ex-military, comfortable with making his living with violence. Sue? He used to do stunts and fights in movies and he’s constantly cracking “You know how things are in B-movies.”
Adkins was in “Doctor Strange” and “The Expendables 2,” played bad guys or fighters in a Bourne picture here, an X-Men there. Mostly, he’s been adrift in a sea of Bs like this. Still, he’s got to know a thing or two about how important fight choreography is to a two-fisted action film.
Here, we see the choreography. We can count the swings and misses that lead to this pre-arranged takedown, that punch through a cardboard wall. That’s a no-no.
A strip club that looks like a rented storage unit with decorations from the local dollar store and strippers who look more like the real thing than the models who want to be actresses who adorn such scenes in pricier genre pictures also give away the game.
But stuntman turned director Jesse V. Johnson has notions he’s making art here. He intersperses random shots of cattle being raised, then shipped to the slaughterhouse.
“Slabs of meat” one and all.
The women in “Debt Collector” are here to be slapped around or treacherously drive the action as the duo makes its way to one subject whom a particularly villainous client (played by Candy Man Tony Todd) has marked for death.
It’s slow-moving and generally unpleasant, unless you want to see the bare bones of fight choreography exposed on screen, “one two three DUCK, one two KICK,” something much more commonplace in the action cinema’s past.
Adkins as a movie star? He’s interesting enough, but generic save for the accent. Mandylor has more presence and makes more out of a chewy supporting role.
Because like every movie martial arts star before him, Adkins is a bit too happy to dial back the hard work of fistfight scenes by picking up a gun. Usually, that’s a sign you’re Chuck Norris/Jean Claude Van Damme — over-the-hill.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with explicit violence, sex, profanity
Cast: Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor, Michael Paré, Vladimir Kulich, Tony Todd
Credits:Directed by Jesse V. Johnson, script by Stu Small and Jesse V. Johnson. An Archstone release.
Running time: 1:35