Movie Review: “Indemnity,” a slow, ungainly “framed firefighter” thriller from South Africa

“Why are you telling me all this?” the hero wants to know when a villain downloads another large chunk of exposition and conspiracy in the South African thriller “Indemnity.”

It’s a question I ask myself scores of times a year, every time a movie lurches to a halt, every instance of “over-explaining” screenwriters feel the need to shove into their pictures. In “Indemnity,” this show-stopping nonsense happens more than once. Or twice.

Writer-director Travis Taute’s lurching, lumbering paranoid thriller is “The Bourne Variation,” another “Conspiracy Theory” with a wrongly-accused man desperately hunting for the sinister people and forces that framed him for murder.

It’s not half bad, with a couple of decent fights — and a few where the fight choreographer’s instructions are a bit too obvious — and a fine finale, the scenes that come after two or three “explanations” too many.

Veteran South African actor Jarrid Geduld (seen in “Black Sails” and “The Brothers Grimsby” in the Western Hemisphere) stars as Theo Abrams, a Cape Town firefighter on leave with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He’s seeing a shrink. Still he drinks. He rages. He blacks out.

And then his journalist wife (Nicole Fortuin) gets a tip from a fellow (Abduragman Adams) we’ve seen being chased and shot at by sharp-shooting goons who mean business. There must be some reason Theo’s on this list of people a big defense contractor is keeping.

Before she or he or anybody else can get a handle on what that might be, wife Angie is dead in the bed next to Theo, and the cops abruptly show up to haul him away.

Det. Williamson (Gail Mabalane) may have sympathy for her fellow first responder, a stressed dad whose kid may become a ward of the state. But that doesn’t matter to her boss (Andre Jacobs). It’s the hoosgow for Theo.

Damned if the guy arrested and in the back of the transport van with him doesn’t try to kill Theo. Damned if he isn’t armed with a gun. Thus comes the first in a long series of implausible escapes, topped by one half-ingenious one.

Theo must brawl, shoot, sprint and steal cars, get the drop on that one bad guy who has a phone that will “direct” him, help Theo figure out why these dudes have the same tattoo (a paranoid thriller cliche) and get to the bottom of it all. Or the top, depending on how high this conspiracy reaches.

There are some pithy quips, in Afrikaans with English subtitles — “In every way this ends badly for me, it ends badly for you” to one hotel clerk he seizes at gunpoint.

The fights are brutish and personal, even if we sometimes wonder if we’re seeing a rehearsed-and-walked thru jiu jitsu demonstration, with each fighter telegraphing his moves to the other. Still, the transport van punch-out, the elevator smash-up, a fire station massacre, all propel “Indemnity” forward with force and verve.

It’s a straight-up genre picture, and that’s what these require — breathless forward motion. We’ve seen variations on this character, this plot. What matters is pacing and innovative action beats.

But it isn’t just the damned “Let me explain what’s happening to you” pauses that bring this beast to a halt. Little lapses in logic, strained efforts to tie this all together with Theo’s PTSD triggers, mentions of Theo’s “particular skills” and news clips and scenes that point to the objectives of the Big Conspiracy slow things down and make it plain to see what this is all about — too plain.

There’s little pace and almost no mystery to the proceedings. We get a surprise here and there, a nasty foe (Louw Venter), a bit too much time hanging with the cops who talk about urgency, but don’t act like they have a sense of it.

That makes this genre pic a victim of the greatest pitfall a movie like this can stumble into. It’s an 80 minute thriller loosely wrapped in a 124 minute package.

Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Jarrid Geduld, Nicole Fortuin, Gail Mabalane, Abduragman Adams, Louw Venter and Andre Jacobs

Credits: Scripted and directed by Travis Taute. A Magnet release.

Running time: 2:04

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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