For the second time in 2018, Scott Adkins is proving he was a decade to late for mainstream stardom. He’s more physically gifted than most current a-list action stars. He can stand toe to toe in the charisma department with the likes of Jason Statham. Yet something about Adkins keeps him an arms length away from from sensible Hollywood producers. Not that he hasn’t landed a few co-starring roles. It’s just that the average moviegoer doesn’t pay attention to the guy practically attached to Gary Oldman’s hip in Criminal. Nor are they likely to care about the guy who gets beat up by a cloak in Doctor Strange. Toss them a film along the lines of The Debt Collector though and you may just grab their attention. Even if the film around him is a bit shaky.
On paper, the plot doesn’t sound spectacularly original. French (Adkins) is a genuinely good guy. Almost to a fault. His Karate Dojo can’t manage to turn a profit. Strapped for cash, He inquires with a friend who works with the mob about making some extra money. After insisting that French is too nice for such work, Alex (Michael Pare) reluctantly puts him in touch with the local boss. As luck should have it, a veteran collector (Louis Mandylor) has a full plate and could use some help. Whilst the week starts out decent enough, it turn sideways suddenly. A shady businessman (Tony Todd) hires the two for the simple task of roughing up a former employee who was embezzling. Of course, things are never go that easily . Soon enough both men have to try to do the right thing, without loosing their heads in the process.
What helps make The Debt Collector fresh, is less a reliance on the action films of the 90’s, but instead splicing itself with the DNA of Walter Hill and Martin Brest. More specifically that of their films 48 Hrs. and Midnight Run. Adkins and Mandylor make for the perfect odd couple. At least when the action is focused directly on their interplay. There’s a healthy bit of banter, backed be genuine charisma from both men. Not limited to their interactions, everything here has the feel of a throwback. Days are broken by inter-titles. A light haze of filth slathered on the screen. Everything seems framed just to keep up the energy. Which would be perfect, if only it didn’t take everything so seriously.
The second of three team-ups this year between Scott Adkins and co-writer/director Jesse V. Johnson, shows they make for a commendable duo. Through Johnson, Adkins proves that all he really needs to succeed is a director willing to let him be himself. Diving into his natural English brogue, he shows a natural affability that’s just as lethal as any punch or kick he’s ever thrown. From a script perspective, while Johnson is able to wring a fair amount of good will from the early stages of The Debt Collector, he’s just as quick to rely on worn-out cliches. He never quite has a full grasp on what makes his film really sing. Dialogue starts to feel forced, or at least relies on coming off as tough, as opposed to natural. As time wears on, the more predicable & melodramatic things become and the goodwill from early on, all but disappears.
Then again, there’s Louis Mandylor. Occupying a role that in the past would go to the likes of Mickey Rourke or a more energetic Bruce Willis, he’s the secret MVP. His baby blue eyes stick out on a face that’s been hit by the brick of karmic circumstance more times than he’d like to count. The kind of guy who perpetually dresses in unbuttoned Hawaiian or polo shirts, stained tank top underneath. He’s more concerned about and takes better care of his “classic” car, than he does himself. Not someone you’d necessarily envy, but entirely befitting the life of a broken down man they call Sue.
As with any Adkins outing, the question of “how are the fights?” hangs in the air. Though it’s not wall to all action, several moments do highlight Adkins’ particular skill set. Just don’t go in expecting high flying acrobatics. This is, after all, a more grounded affair. Which overall makes this a lite recommendation. Adkins and Johnson have a strong desire to make something different in the overcrowded VOD marketplace. That’s commendable. Even if it’s an film that narrowly miss the mark. Each time they get together, they inch closer to creating a perfect storm. Even if it takes both of them letting someone else take over scripting duties to finally get there. For now they’ll have to settle with The Debt Collector being a good, but not great effort. Which is better than most could honestly hope for.