When film buffs think of scripts by Paul Schrader, they think of down-and-dirty-and-bloody tales of sins, sinners, atonement and maybe a glimpse of salvation through all the violence, revenge and sex.
And we can see Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Cat People,” “The Card Counter,” “First Reformed”) in the screenplay for “There Are No Saints,” a “sins of the fathers” B-movie turned into a star vehicle for Mexican-American actor José María Yazpik (“Narcos: Mexico) by equally-unknown Mexican director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa. You just have to know what to look for — a scene with a priest in a church, strip clubs, a violent man’s hopeless path to redemption.
It’s a solid-if-far-fetched B-picture peppered with excellent supporting players — Paz Vega and Shannyn Sossamon as “love interests,” Neal McDonaugh, Tommy Flanagan and Ron Perlman as heavies, with Tim Roth as a lawyer on the shady side of the street.
“Do me a favor and LOSE my f—–g number!”
Yazpik plays Neto Nientes, a hardened criminal released from prison in Texas when a cop says he put him there by faking evidence. But the assassin they call “The Jesuit” probably deserved to be inside anyway. He got his nickname thanks to his pitiless passion for torture.
The film shortchanges Jesuit history even if Schrader does not.
Neto has but one request. “I only want to see my son.” But old associates aren’t likely to leave him be, and his ex (Vega) may relent and succumb to his sexual charms, when we’ve seen the near-crucifixion he put her through pre-prison. But the goons of the Texas state police aren’t going to be as forgiving.
We have only to hear him say “I’m leaving tomorrow” to know the ambush — ambushes — are coming tonight. He stabs, snaps and shoots his way out of trouble, but the ex’s new mobster-lover (McDonough) nabs his kid (Keidrich Sellat). Neto must battle his way across the Texas borderlands, hunting for that kid, killing everybody who gets in his way.
As we know who’s in the cast, we have to figure we’re spending 85 “Saints” minutes waiting for Mr. Badass– Perlman — to show up.
Yazpik establishes his badass bonafides early enough. But Neto’s many impossibly narrow “escapes” and brutal retribution wears on a body — his and ours. The action beats hit hard. But the star is more “efficient” than compelling, an effective heavy who doesn’t quite convince us he’s leading man material.
Sossamon (TV’s “Sleepy Hollow” and “Wayward Pines”) brings a little sassy, drawling pluck the under-estimated stripper/bartender hired to help our anti-hero get close to his prey. Flanagan has a single scene as a gun dealer/intermediary Neto must get by and shop with (guns guns guns), and there are actors listed on the IMDb credits that I didn’t see in the finished film, which is seven minutes shorter than the running time listed there.
As C-movies aiming for B go, “Saints” is watchable if utterly perfunctory in between the fights. It may have “Schrader” on the credits, but there’s not enough of The Master’s Touch here to elevate the material, the leading man or the movie to where it wants to be.
Rating: R for strong and disturbing violence, language throughout, sexual content, nudity and some drug use
Cast: José María Yazpik, Paz Vega, Shannyn Sossamon, Neal McDonough, Tommy Flanagan, Karla Souza, Keidrich Sellat, Tim Roth and Ron Perlman.
Credits: Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, scripted by Paul Schrader. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:39