Director: Keith Parmer
Writer: Keith Parmer
Producer: Eleonore Dailly, Chris Ranta
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Josh Henderson, Brad Carter, Alfred Molina, Lennie James
Running Time: 120 min.
By Kyle Warner
Okay, this one’s kind of silly, but I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed it.
The film begins with a Vegas casino robbery. Four members of a five man crew are captured before they can make off with the loot. The fifth man takes a bullet to the head, but survives and wanders out into the desert with ten million dollars under his arm. Fast forward a decade. The fifth man has a new name and a new job, serving as the Sheriff of the little town he wandered into all those years ago. He has no memory of his criminal past, thanks to that bullet that still resides within his brain, and claims no knowledge of the millions he supposedly hid. That’s a problem because his old crew is out of prison and they’re looking to collect.
With me so far? Yeah, it’s one of those movies where you have to suspend some disbelief… and it has some ideas that feel awfully familiar to films like A History of Violence and High Noon… but for the most part it somehow works, thanks to a quirky script and some likable performances.
The film is being sold as an action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. He stands front and center on the DVD cover with a shotgun and a scowl and you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s the Sheriff at the center of the film. Instead that role belongs to English actor Lennie James, who’s made a career out of playing world-weary Americans on TV in such shows as The Walking Dead, Jericho, and Low Winter Sun. The role of a Sheriff who used to be a criminal but can’t remember shit because he’s got a bullet in his head asks a lot of any actor. Because, I mean, let’s get real: this is just goofy. But James plays it straight, anchors the film in something akin to reality, and keeps the story from falling into parody.
Another actor who helps the film a great deal is Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), here playing the town’s boozing doctor. In what could’ve been lame comic relief or just another tired retread of a worn-out stock character actually becomes the highlight of the film thanks to Molina’s screen presence and comic timing.
Sadly, Van Damme is largely wasted in the film. He plays little more than a henchman in the crew and is never given much to do. It’s unfortunate. I expect most people who will decide to watch Swelter will watch it for Jean-Claude Van Damme. But his role could’ve been played by just about anyone.
When the bad guys show up in the Sheriff’s little town, our amnesiac hero doesn’t recognize them, but he recognizes a threat easily enough. Still, it takes a long time for things to get going. In some quirky, harebrained way things do manage to connect by the end, but it could’ve used a faster pace.
Still, for all the easy things that the movie does wrong, Swelter does some of the hard things right. The performances are good. The dialogue is snappy and sometimes quite funny. The camerawork is interesting. And when the credits rolled at the end, I found that I had enjoyed myself.
In addition to Van Damme not being the star, I feel the need to make one more thing clear: Swelter is not an action film. Sometimes it’s not even much of a thriller. It’s a crime drama… or you might even call it a modern day western. But make no mistake, if you’re going into the movie expecting shootouts, fight scenes, and explosions, you’re going to be disappointed.
Swelter may disappoint with a story full of plot contrivances and by wasting Jean-Claude Van Damme in a throwaway role, but some fine performances and sharp dialogue manage to make the film strangely likable. It’s a B-movie, to be sure, but it’s a B-movie with some style.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5.5