Jaqueline Fleming can handle fight choreography.
The low-budget thriller “Atone” proves that. She should be able to assemble a fine audition reel of her sweep kicks, flips (while firing a gun) and cartwheels while battling her way through bad guys towards the villain in chief in this “Die Hard” in a Megachurch.
No, her work on TV’s “The Quad” didn’t require any of that, or a stunt double.
What did legendary bank robber Willie Sutton say? He robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” He might change his target after looking over the opulence of these modern day/TV tithed cathedrals and the multi-millionaires living like Liberace on donations.
If writer-director Wes Miller, who did the faith-based “Prayer Never Fails,” had stuck to action scenes, smack-talk one-liners and a few judgmental speeches about all that cash coming in and corrupting Christianity, he might have had something.
Instead, he’s delivered an uneven, sloppily-plotted tale with a badass leading lady, a lot of bloodshed and many a scene that stops the action and puts our gang leader (Columbus Short of TV’s “Scandal”) on the therapist’s couch.
It’s short but stumbling fight your way through a huge church thriller that gives away its intentions early and falls into every bad guy cliche in the book, including everybody’s favorite — a bad guy putting down his guns to fist-fight the heroine, because he’s under-estimated her, and because otherwise, it’s “game (and movie) over.”
Fleming plays Laura Bishop, a widow and single-mom with that favorite action film resume, “Ex special ops.” That, and her dad being a deacon, gets her a security job at Bethel Community Church, working under the armed and dangerous Xander (Jackson Rowden).
But she hasn’t officially started when this cadre of commandos marches in, “military style,” and takes the place over.
It’s in the middle of Jackson, Mississippi (apparently), this vast new glass and steel monument to the largess of the flock of Rev. Shaw (Robert Rusler).
The gunmen are in color coded masks — Green, Black, White, Purple, Yellow and so forth, so they address each other “Reservoir Dogs” style.
Desperate to save her daughter (Genesis Martin) and deacon/father (Jay R. Unger) after the assault begins. No time or hope of notifying the police, just find a thug, isolate him and trash talk him to death.
“Let me find my little girl…and I’ll let you live.”
She brawls and shoots her way through the gang as White (Short) makes his demands known, via in-house intercom, to the Reverend and his deacons, locked in a conference room.
An opening scene has Laura dropping in on “Fight Club,” showing she can both take and deliver a punch. Of course, she can’t talk about “Fight Club.”
White discovers her presence, and makes his threat.
“I will see you soon!”
“Not before I see you!”
There’s a lot of pointless foreshadowing, security that’s all the more necessary, the security chief says, when a Charleston or mass shootings like them happen. It’s pointless because the bad guys just stroll in and take over.
White tries his best supervillain lines — “Reverend Shaw, always with the silver — or should I say ‘golden’ tongue.”
One murderer crosses himself before every shooting.
And when Laura’s dad, the deacon, exclaims, he shouts “You son of a gun!”
The picture is a faith-bashing thriller with faith-based G-rated dialogue, hand-held camera fight action and a staggering body count.
How’s that all work? Not well. Not well at all.
But Fleming has herself some B-movie action film bonafides she couldn’t claim before. She brawls more than MMA actress Gina Carano did in her latest. That doesn’t “Atone” for the film’s scriptural shortcomings and mostly flat supporting cast. Still, it counts for something.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence.
Cast: Jaqueline Fleming, Columbus Short, Robert Rusler, Genesis Martin, Stephen Farrelly
Credits: Written and directed by Wes Miller. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:29