Screener Review: GRIDLOCKED (2016)

Director Allan Ungar first impressed me with his 2014 mixed-martial arts revenge drama, Tapped Out. The film put actor and martial artist Cody Hackman on the radar for a lot of us action fans while the star continued to make strides in film under his Hackybox Pictures banner, and now we continue onward with Hackman next to actor Dominic Purcell in an albeit delightful pairing in Ungar's newest, Gridlocked.

From jump, Ungar, who wrote the film with co-scribe Rob Robol, minces no images in the first several minutes while clarifying this is going to be an action picture, from shots of bad guys locking and loading during the opening sequence, to meeting our protagonist, Purcell, in the role of David, a peppered, worn and tough New York detective who's seen the business end of a gun more times than several. And in the middle of it all: Hackman starring as Brody, a spoiled, overprivileged and legally embattled movie star on the verge of losing it all unless he can abide by a deal that will keep him out of jail. Needless to say, the deal includes a mandatory ride-along with New York's finest - the aforementioned David, and it isn't long before the regrets on behalf of both parties start to settle.

Despite this, Brody's own concerted efforts to bond with David eventually make headway leading the two on a trip to a tactical training facility in Canada where David's old strategical response team is based. Acquaintances are a little testy with Brody in the room, but little do they know that bigger problems await them just outside, with a team of mercenaries waiting to raid the facility for their own purposes. Soon enough, the facility falls under siege and a bloody body count ensues. David and his team take any and every measure to assure themselves the upperhand, but even then the rabbit hole goes deeper. The clock has already started, and David, his team, and the inexperienced Brody are resigned to their own skillsets to make it through the rest of the night without getting shot.

What we get in Gridlocked is pretty clear, cut and dry -  it's a solid contained tactical action thriller from start to finish with a lot of admirable moments amid the drama and blazing machine gun fire. The script does bear a few lackluster moments but the pacing is well-kept and energetic overall with Purcell lending his share of bravado to the screen as the princple lead. Hackman, a five-time world Karate champion, gets a few hits in the film as well, although his screenfighting chops aren't as prevalent they were in Tapped Out a few years ago. Rewardingly, his role leans more on the backbone of his acting, harnessing a persona that would especially make Mortal Kombat character Johnny Cage look in the mirror and see Brody with admiration.

Danny Glover turns in a notable performance of his own as David's friend, Sully, during his limited screentime, while actors Stephen Lang and Vinnie Jones, two of the best people to play screen villains to date, headline superbly as our main antagonists with the former chewing the brunt of the dialogue. Supporting cast members Steve Byers and James A. Woods add to much of the levity as David's former team members with actress and wrestling femme fatal Trish Stratus flexing some muscle and wit of her own since debuting in Bounty Hunters in 2011.

Purcell's performance proves adequate in a role that isn't exactly unique but is still brilliantly written in areas that counted, particularly involving some of the more terse moments where our Brody is reminded of the limits of David's temperament. It's not overly fed, and when those moments pop up, they give you a good chuckle which adds to the fun of watching these characters develop. Moreover, the film's few ruses are pretty well-written and timed which speaks to Ungar's ability to keep you interested in the film without clobbering you with too much B-movie filler and camp, as well as how entertaining and prudent the performances of our cast are throughout, as are the major action sequences courtesy of stunt coordinator Neil Davidson (Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Knights).

Gridlocked isn't exactly huge in scale, but it has all you need to enjoy yourself for a few hours if you love intense gun battles with Purcell leading the charge, and a dose of dramatic wit and heart to boot. Hackman is also great to see progress in the course of his career following Tapped Out (or Tapped in some territories) and seeing as how he's well stocked on the physical supply to meet the demand, with the right director and vision, one could hope we'll have another fine action star on our hands yet.

The film was a festival favorite last year in Toronto and Fantastic Fest in Texas last year and it's easy to see why, and should it get a much bigger sequel with Purcell starring once more, I'd welcome it. Otherwise, Magnet Releasing is opening this one on DVD and VoD on June 14.


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