Movie Review: When a heist goes wrong, better get yourself to “The Refuge”

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In the movie business, you can either wait for a break, to be “discovered,” or you make your own.

So congratulations for Keith Sutliff for getting his own star vehicle, “The Refuge,” off the ground, in front of the camera and into a theater or two.

“The Refuge” is his self-written, self-directed, self-produced, self-released, self-starring heist picture. He also took “casting” and “unit production manager” credits.

That’s one way to flesh in your Linked In profile. Well, if you want something done right…

But who wants to see a thriller where the action — you know, the exciting parts — takes place pretty much entirely off camera?

As the correct answer is “Nobody,” maybe — as the popular inanity goes — “The universe is trying to tell you something.”

“Refuge” is a stupefyingly dull thriller, pretty much right out of the box, from the trite phone call that frames our story in the “present,” to the 95 minute flashback that tells us how our hero (Sutliff) got here.

“You’re f—–g dead, you hear me?”

Markus is an LA getaway driver who often just arranges the jobs he’s commissioned to do.

I mean, he pulls a heavy wrench out of his backseat to walk up on a van carrying stolen cash and the guys who stole it. But that’s almost the only active moment moment we see from this head-shaved man of few words.

Markus gets a call, often from the Russian Zander (sic) played by Martin Copping. He strolls out to his black Dodge Charger, and he’s off.

In my notes for the film, I jotted down that “he wastes a couple of minutes too many on a slow pursuit filmed from the back seat where all we notice is that his satellite radio is tuned to ‘Classic Rock 95.1.'”

That turns out to be most of the movie, Hell, almost all of it — just the star, sometimes unseen, sometimes in profile, driving the empty streets, bridges and nearly-empty tunnel of LA on his way to a meeting, an armed robbery or (on one or two occasions), a getaway.

Gee, we know your character can drive, Keith. We get it. Maybe not a “stick.” But whatever.

The violence of the robberies is off-camera. We cut away from the action just as its about to happen or other characters (Matthew Webb plays a trigger man) leave the frame to do the dirty work. Well, there’s a burst of badly-staged violence in the finale.

There are meetings with assorted underworld folk (played by Julien Cesario and Webb) where their characters chatter on and on and on and Markus/Sutliff just sits there, offering the occasional monotone monosyllable in reply.

Watts (Webb) — You know I love lite beer. It’s my favorite….Keeps you thin. Sexy. Full…Me myself? I try to learn something new every day..”You know this city. Lotta talk, not a lotta walk…try to have fun, live under the sun.”

Markus: “….”

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The mesmerizing electronic thriller score by Federico Vaona is a plus. But it’s also a clue. Sutliff was inspired by the Ryan Gosling thriller “Drive.”

But “The Refuge” is like an outtake reel, the dullest parts of “Drive” and that Tom Hardy in an SUV drama “Locke” without dialogue or action or much of anything to hold our interest.

If only, if ONLY the screenwriter had taken his hero’s exhortation to Frank (Cesario) to heart.

“Cut to the chase!”

“All right, all right, I’ll cut straight to the chase!”

1star6

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout)

Cast: Keith Sutliff, Reine Swart,Julien Cesario, Matthew Webb, Tien Pham

Credits: Written and directed by Keith Sutliff  A KS Films release.

Running time: 1:38

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