The problem solving, the “gags” used to put characters in jeopardy and extract them from this or that life-threatening jam, is pretty sloppy in “Dig,” a grimy desert Southwest kidnapping thriller starring Thomas Jane, Emile Hirsch and Jane’s daughter, Harlow Jane.
Some situations seem as corny as the drawl Hirsch slings as a bad hombre in a black cowboy hat who takes a subcontractor dad and his daughter hostage on a work site.
But miss this solid-if-sometimes-lacking B-thriller and you’ll be cheating yourself of a few laughs, some of them in the darkly funny dialogue, and a couple of over-the-top villainy turns by Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) and his mean girl with a sherbet green pistol accomplice, vamped up by Liana Liberato (“The Beach House,” TV’s “Light as a Feather”).
A prologue introduces us to a father with anger management issues trying to rein in an out of control 16 year-old daughter. One furious phone-tracked pursuit of Miss Acting Out ends with Mom dead, daughter deaf and so traumatized she won’t talk anymore. Father and daughter are now survivors but crippled by guilt.
A cochlear implant idea has Dad considering a big bucks house demo offer from the shadiest character ever to drift into his business in dusty Joshua Tree country. He ends up dragging the kid he still calls “Squirrel” — but now in sign language — to a remote work site. And that’s where things go really wrong for the second time in their lives.
It turns out this is a “stash house.” And whatever they’re supposed to knock down and salvage, they have to do it in a hurry, as the land is being redeveloped. One mistake later, blood is spilled and we wonder just what it is that they needed to bring all this gear to “Dig” up, or bury.
Director K. Asher Levin, who did a two for one deal with Jane (“Slayers” opens in Oct., and Jane got his daughter a nice film credit in “Dig”), delivers a brisk, tense shouting match prologue that climaxes with a shooting. The thriller that follows doesn’t live up to that opening.
But the players have their fun, with Hirsch trotting out that drawl, referencing kids’ cartoons and ancient mythology in his self-help speak about “net positive” experiences, and insult-the-hostages patter.
“Ain’t you a Cassandra, now?”
Jane Senior always delivers fair value, even in B-movies. And his daughter’s not bad either.
But Liberato, as a tattooed, halter-topped, trigger-happy trollop, practically steals the picture. Yeah, she did time on “Sons of Anarchy” as a young teen. Here’s where that pays off.
“Why’re we MONOLOGUING? Let’s just TAP’em!”
The logic of it all is shaky enough early on, but it breaks down further in the third act. By then the players having us on are the characters who have us hooked. Give this crew a tighter, more logical script and this genre pic could have been something special, or at least a thriller that comes closer to working.
Rating: R, violence, drug abuse, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Thomas Jane, Emile Hirsch, Liana Liberato and Harlow Jane
Credits: Directed by K. Asher Levin, scripted by Banipal Ablakhad and Benhur Ablakhad. A Saban release.
Running time: 1:29