Yes, the “hit-man thriller” is the most beaten-to-death genre in the cinema. Strangled, shot, stabbed and kicked to death as well.
But “Flinch” throws a few curves and screwballs when it comes to the plate. It offers a surprise or two, an odd touch or three, even if it doesn’t break format or reinvent this weariest of action tropes.
It’s about a young hitman, for starters. Our killer is young enough that he still goes by “Joey.” And Joey Doyle (Daniel Zovatto of “It Follows,””Don’t Breathe”) is something of a Momma’s boy.
He comes home, Momma reaches inside his jacket, removes his pistols from their holsters and clears the chambers. Momma fixes him dinner, says Catholic grace over the meal and practically tucks him in.
Momma is played by Cathy Moriarty (“Raging Bull,””Copland”). She tucks you in, you stay tucked.
She dotes on him the way Joey dotes on his Siamese fighting fish. She’s Catholic so Joey sleeps under a pink-neon rimmed crucifix/
Joey’s in Dutch to a bigtime LA mobster (David Proval), a back-slapping paisano who knew his dad. Because Joey’s dad used to work for him, and got into debt.
Joey shoots his way through an opening hit, great. He tries to turn down the next job.
“That’s not what your father would say…Don’t make me cry.”
Nobody makes Lee, or his thug-squared son (Buddy Duress, of “PRVT CHAT”) cry.
But that “one last job” (which will never be one last job) goes wrong. The mark gets the drop on Joey, beats the hell out of him. And just as Joey turns the tables and finishes him, the dead man’s assistant (Tilda Cobham-Hervey of “I Am Woman”) walks in.
As she’s young and willowy and beautiful, Joey hesitates pulling the trigger. That’s not the story he tells Momma or anybody else who figures out he’s kidnapped a witness instead of silencing her.
“She didn’t flinch.”
Plenty of movies have played around with this killer/kidnapper-victim “romance” idea, which grows more cringeworthy the more often you see it.
But writer-director Cameron Van Hoy stirs things up a bit. A lot.
“Mia” has agency. She’s screaming and pounding on the car trunk on her way to Joey’s house. If the cops he stops at a light next to had a lick of sense, they’d have made the bloody guy with the noisy trunk in a heartbeat.
She gets lose, gets his gun, gets away even. Remember, she saw a murder and it wasn’t something that made her “flinch.”
But the guys she turns to for rescue? They’re all connected. The mob, the mob’s hirelings, all want her dead.
Momma wants her dead.
“Take CARE of this!”
Joey? He’s coming around.
Zovatto has a nice emotionally-disconnected glower about him. The character’s day is at a firing range. Guns and using them are things he’s grown up with and totally comfortable using.
Cobham-Hervey’s Mia can be vulnerable and resigned to her fate, but she’s collecting cards, drawing from the deck, improving her hand. Even Momma is a bit charmed. Eventually.
Duress has a look that reminds me of a young Richard Edsen — feral, and made heartless and ruthless because of what he grew up with and how he looks.
And Moriarty’s ferocious motherly turn reminds us that Jacki Weaver and Ellen Barkin shouldn’t be the only ones playing homicidal mommas in the movies and on TV.
Yes, this is a formula thriller, even throwing in the kidnapping a beautiful witness element. But Van Hoy finds a few wrinkles, and a pretty good cast twists those into something that’s just different enough to take you aback, if not quite enough to make you flinch.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Daniel Zovatto, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, David Proval, Buddy Duress and Cathy Moriarty.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Cameron Van Hoy. A release.
Running time: 1:39