A Case For Better Action Movies - VIGILANTE DIARIES (2016)


It took me a few viewings on a Sunday to get through director Christian Sesma's new movie, Vigilante Diaries, and mainly due to my job (Hashtag #WhatsAWeekend?). This, and the fact my online screener copy kept freezing and I had to go through a series of stops-and-starts to make it through both viewings. But, that's neither here nor there - whereas the core of this discussion lies mainly in the overall fascination behind turning an underfunded webseries into a sprawling action film with sequel potential. This was the case in 2013 when Chill.com was a still a thing, and Vigilante Diaries landed with two episodes in an all-exclusive effort to earn the support of donors willing to help bring thrilling action and mature, graphic novel-style storytelling to a series format.

Obviously, that effort was short-lived, but apparently it didn't stop Sesma, nor the film's star, actor and screenwriter Paul Sloan, and for better or worse, for good reason. Watching the newly-concentrated film, you're immediately immersed into a story already in progress and thankfully the film is written in such a way that you do not need to see the intial two webisodes to catch-up. Formulaically however, what starts as an engaging movie with some nifty set pieces and explosive action with badass and colorful characters, and deadpan humor incidentally turns into something almost entirely different at halfway through than what it could have been. It didn't surprise me gravely, although it did catch me off guard as if I were suddenly watching two different films, knowing full well I spent the past year or so hyping at least one of them. It's kind of funny in my mind while writing this prior to your reading of it, and if you're laughing too as a result of this, then...well, you're welcome.

The film, which takes place in the span of ten years with flashbacks in between, returns Sloan to the role of the nameless Vigilante - a former soldier-turned-online media star known for dispensing his own brand of justice as shown through the maverick lens of documentary filmmaker, Mike Hanover, played by actor Jason Mewes. Following the events of the two-part series, Hanover is now a fugitive of the Armenian mob, led by Andreas whose latest trophy, the Vigilante, awaits his judgment at a Cartel stronghold at the California/Mexico border. With the help of the Vigilante's distant love interest, Jade, Hanover's contact, Barry - an eccentric techie and former seal, convenes with the Vigilante's one and only comrade-in-arms, The Kid, who comes out of hiding and sets out to rescue him. The mission is a success, although it is not without its share casualties and an elusive crimeboss now on the run. With time running out, a world of obstacles await the lone Vigilante in a twist that could signal a greater price to pay if he doesn't act fast to stop a more nefarious plot from unfolding.

To their credit, Sloan and Sesma achieved something amazing in this process. The idea of actually building a larger world around the Vigilante - a world full of the kind of espionage, intrigue and corrupt war politics that would have even the late Robert Ludlum nodding with approval from time to time, does the character some ample justice. We learn a little more about the Vigilante, his torn history, and the enemies on both sides of the good and evil spectrum who either want him dead, or captured alive - so as to spare the government's most expensive killing machine.

Sloan gives the Vigilante an admirable cinematic presence that action fans can look up to - an original crimefighting figure with shades of grey darker than the average anti-hero which, I think, would inspire interest in almost anyone with a knack for action movies. One other upside with respect to Sloan's performance also comes in the good graces of actress Jacqueline Lord who brings an aura of tenderness that comes with her tenacity and resilence as the Vigilante's main squeeze, Jade, showcasing an on-screen romance I would have loved to have seen a little more of.

Mewes lends his share of adulterated banter with a performance that more or less echoes his usual Jay & Silent Bob routine to some extent, while actor Mike Hatton's portrayal of Barry deserves some major credit in carrying some of the film's comedic tone as the film's only principal gay character. Michael Madsen turns in one of the few, more memorable performances as Mr. Moreau while action star Michael Jai White holds all the cards as former military commander-turned-rogue operative, Barrington.

Current Bellator prospect, MMA fighter and oft actor Quinton "Rampage" Jackson brings a workable supporting role as Wolfman, and offers some notable screenfighting chops to boot along with wrestling star Sal "Chavo" Guerrero, as well as White who gets in at least two impromptu fight sequences of his own and performs with prominence. Sloan shows he can handle a fight scene, though only in a certain purview of techniques that he can perform without looking stiff and a reckon some more training will definitely help in that regard. The award for sexiest match of the film, however, goes to the finale between White's leading femme fatale baddie, Swan, played by actress Mary Christina Brown opposite sultry co-star Levy Tran in a delicious, titillating tussle I could watch for days (I'm single. Sue me.)

The film makes a sure effort to be something big in scale in terms of its story and there's nothing wrong with being ambitious here, but there's a lot to be said when it comes to staying on course for what essentially should have been a more coherent reboot. Several missed opportunities occur in the film, one which features returning actor Kevin L. Walker in the role of The Kid from the 2013 webseries. He turns in a solid performance, but the direction of the film completely undercuts any chances of exploring the earlier stages of The Vigilante/The Kid pairing, leaving nothing to gain from seeing the two on screen together amid all the flying bullets, homoerotic jabs, one-off race jokes and sardonic wit.

Actor Armun Nshanian's portrayal Andreas, accompanied by that of original series actress Jessica Uberuaga as principle villainess, Red, is over-the-top at best, but far from memorable and to be honest, often feels like filler to further antagonize our hero just by being in the room - or the clumsily written plot for that matter. Going forward, his own character development angles itself from moments of spiritual reflection - something which starts to feel like a shameless attempt to humanize him, but by then, you really just want him to do something more wicked so the film can get back on track to having him killed off like a good villain should.

Vigilante Diaries tries to achieve a lot in its hour and forty-seven minute duration. It's got some terrific ingredients to work with the first half, but the rest of it stumbles into a contrived, superficial mess. The overall narrative of the Vigilante and his celebrity-status is treated more like an afterthought with all that the film goes for in establishing so many bad guys, while a lot of our supporting characters are given the revolving door treatment. Instead of constructing something truly touching and visceral for the niche it aims for. Perhaps this is where the production should have considered a possible move to a Netflix series with Sesma showrunning, so as to explore the characters much more than a movie ever could have in under two hours.

There's no doubt that Sloan and Sesma make a great pair and my own gut tells me they'll be better off next time around. As for Vigilante Diaries, I stand by my review; I won't brush it under the rug as a film that completely sucks, because it doesn't. As it stands though, what it does is it presents a case for better action movies, or even a series that may hopefully leaves more to better muse about in anyone's personal journal.

Vigilante Diaries opens in select theaters and on iTunes on June 24, and On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray on July 5, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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  2. Seems like we needed more substance and backstory and less "bang bang shoot them up." The story was about a Vigilante and his partner The Kid, and the crazy missions they undertake, which is documented by Mike Hanover (Jason Mewes). A slight father/big brother relationship that molds the characters and the situations into something amazing, however this just turned into one big directors/writers reel. The entire story seems lost. Kevin L. Walker, Rampage Jackson, Michael Jai, and Michael Madsen are the reason I'll watch...

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