In the decade of Mel Gibson’s justifiable Hollywood exile, few moviegoers have seen him outside of his cameos in “Expendables” or “Daddy’s Home” sequels.
But he’s been doing his penance, or at least finding a reason to keep hitting the gym and occasionally shave his Old Testament beard in B-movies, violent action pictures that play to his acting strengths — a glib way with tough-guy talk, a relish for playing characters bloodied, tortured and martyred in the most violent ways.
“Blood Father” parks solitary, unshaven Mel, covered in tattoos, in the self-exile of an ex-con, recovering-alcoholic biker — Indio, California.
He’s living in a 60 year old trailer, eeking out a living as a tattoo artist and still making it to his meetings.
“I’m John…I gotta kid that I can’t find, ‘cept on a milk carton…two years sober, one in The Joint, one out.”
Living just across the desert dump of a trailer park from his sponsor (William H. Macy) helps keep him straight.
But that daughter, Lydia? She (Erin Moriarty) has been squeezing a lifetime of bad choices into 17 years. We meet her at the cash register of a big box store in NRA America, where she can load up on box after box of 9mm ammo, but “I’m gonna need to see some ID” before she can buy those Camel Lights.
She’s hooked on drugs and on an older man (Diego Luna), a violent mid-level functionary of a drug gang, and a lover who expects her to pull the trigger when they invade a contact’s house and try to torture and shoot info out of the woman left behind there.
Lydia louses that up, and she’s on the run and on the phone, reaching out to the father she barely knows. He nurses his ’71 Nova back to life and races off to fetch her, probation officer be damned.
And when the Mexican drug gang shows up at the trailer, he embraces his “comin’ up here, takin’ our jobs” MAGA party line and defends her.
He can’t have a gun, but she’s brought one into the trailer. He can’t fire it because “I’m gonna get BLAMED for this” and thrown back into prison.
“See? I MISSED ’em for you!” he bellows after his first fusillade.
Whatever he picked up in prison, “Link” as everybody but his sponsor and his ex calls him, doesn’t realize ditzy daughter can be tracked by her iPhone. Whatever he had to offer her as shelter, “safe house” is out the door. “Luxury” never figured into his decor.
“It kind of looks like you miss the comforts of JAIL!”
And now they’re on the run in classic B-movie fashion — cheap motels (Thomas Mann plays a smitten young desk clerk) and “I gotta see an old friend” stops to get help from a combat vet/biker (the late, great Michael Parks) and his old lady (Dale Dickey, of course), and even back to prison where Miguel Sandoval reigns.
He gets an earful of his little girl’s “thinking” — “My boyfriend thought we could get married, so I wouldn’t have to TESTIFY against him!”
And he checks in with Kirby, his sponsor. Because no matter how bad things get, he can’t crawl back in the bottle.
“I’m not dying, Kirby. I’m just in El Centro!”
It’s on the map. Like Indio. Look it up.
French director Jean-Francois Richet did the “Mesrine” escaped con-on-the-lam thrillers, and he keeps this one on its feet and on the move. Those French. If they’ll forgive Polanski, they’ll forgive Mel.
The script, based on a Peter Craig pulp novel, leans on droll, hard-boiled one-liners, profanity and just a tad of dead-end biker politics.
Preacher, the Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia dealer played by Tarantino pal Parks, has glorious speeches about the world Lydia’s daddy used to inhabit, and the one he makes his living in.
“All the losers make me money,” he says, showing off the Nazi and rebel flag antiques he peddles to racists who ride without helmets, unless they’re Wehrmacht issued.
There isn’t much of a plot and isn’t much logic to the one there is. It’s too violent for the squeamish, but that’s Mel for you — always looking for an on-screen crucifixion, even if it’s by Glock.
But like some of Mel’s other B pictures, “Blood Father” delivers the goods. And that’s all it ever promises to do.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use
Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H. Macy, Michael Parks, Dale Dickey and Miguel Sandoval
Credits: Directed by Jean-François Richet, script by Peter CRaig and Andrea Berloff, based on the novel by Peter Craig. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:28