I still have faith that Gina Carano is going to land good action film roles. Even though she’s trapped in B and C thrillers like “Daughter of the Wolf,” she has presence, and her fist-fighting bonafides remain impressive.
She’s had bit parts in a “Deadpool” and a “Fast and Furious” picture, and she’s a long way from her thrilling break-out film, “Haywire.” But she can take heart that Jason Statham went through such a lull, movies where the best reason to sign up is you need the work and the stunt coordinator and fight choreographer are impressive and will keep you from getting hurt.
She and we are hurled into “Daughter of the Wolf.” We meet her character as she’s fetching a shotgun and a stash of cash from her family’s long idle (British Columbia) lumber mill.
It’s the dead of winter, and she’s got a snowy rendezvous with three kidnapping thriller cliches — “You want to see your boy again?” thugs in masks.
Her kid’s been kidnapped and she is paying the ransom.
“We had a deal.”
The plan, of course, is to get the cash and kill her. No kid returned. But Clair Hamilton is, of course, “ex-special forces.”
Bad screenwriters always want to explain away somebody’s “particular skills.” There’s very little that follows that suggests Clair has “particular skills.” She can fight, but there are other reasons that can be. She can shoot, but she’s from the rural mountain Northwest.
And she’s not shy about threats. Again, that doesn’t require military training, but screenwriters love their crutches.
After an impressive SUVs-on-snow chase and spectacular crash, Clair gets the drop on the last surviving bagman. And Larsen (Brendan Fehr), bullet in his leg, is still more scared of this ringleader “Father” than he is of the woman pointing a gun at his “good” leg.
Father is played by Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss as a crusty, profane old coot with a grudge and a cult-like gang of followers, only some of them family.
He’s got Clair’s kid (Anton Gillis Adelman), a child he’s inclined to school, a bit, on the ways of the world.
“Boy, I HATE t’raise my voice…stupid kid.”
He grouses at his underlings.
“If they’re not dead, they’d better G–D—ed WISH they were!”
The script gives us three threads to follow — Clair’s trek, with Larsen, over the mountain to the villain’s lair, the goings-on in that lair and flashbacks showing the inevitable neglectful “You were never HERE when I needed you!” mom guilt Clair feels.
When she’s not fighting on a frozen lake, or trying to crawl out of it, or brawling at the top of a waterfall, dodging bulle, Clair tries to figure out why the wolves, which are EVERYwhere, seem not as interested in her as they are in Father and his minions.
Yes, nature wants its revenge, too.
Ex-MMA star Carano has the sturdy build of a brawler, and acquits herself well in the fights, and the stunts are upscale and realistic for a modest-budget thriller.
The narrative is built on oddly theatrical twists, a film that begins in mystery and then sheepishly sets out to EXPLAIN every mystery away in the middle acts.
David Hackl, a production designer (“Outland,” a “Saw” sequel) turned director, gets the look of the film right even if the pacing is slack and the script a few rewrites shy of being pretty good.
But that script was good enough to get one and all, including the 70something Dreyfuss, out in the snow of British Columbia in late winter, so give them that. And the stars, to a one, acquit themselves admirably in this frostbitten script.
It’s just that in thrillers starring martial artists, it’s the action that counts, the speed it comes at you, the violence in your face thanks to a tight, intimate camera frame. It’s how cool the fights look and how cool the star handles herself in them.
Production design and endless explanatory motivations are for sissies.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language
Cast: Gina Carano, Richard Dreyfuss, Brendan Fehr, Sydelle Noel, Brock Morgan
Credits: Directed by David Hackl, script by Nika Agiashvili. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:28