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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Standoff 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

StandoffDirector: Adam Alleca
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Thomas Jane, Laurence Fishburne, Ella Ballentine

Standoff (my latest review) kinda reminded me of last year's The Hateful Eight. It's not a Western per se but like "Eight", there's a sense of claustrophobia and a real cat and mouse way about everything. In truth, I liked Standoff better because it only needed eighty minutes to tell its story (whereas Tarantino's film needed almost three, bloated hours to get the job done). Now does that mean I'm garnering a recommendation? Not quite. Standoff's script disappoints because it isn't nearly tight enough. The two lead actors (Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne) get saddled with overworked dialogue and ham it up to no end. Yeah I liked the concept of this flick with its wound up tension and reminisce of a one act play. But here's the thing: I just couldn't listen to two testosterone-filled meatheads yell at each other for one more minute. Example of an exchange between these guys: "I gotta a cellphone as*hole." "I know dipsh*t, I'm looking at it." My eyes couldn't stop rolling.

Containing one brutal torture scene (you'll never look at a hammer the same way again), filmed on location in Ontario, Canada (it felt like Georgia to me), and featuring a likable child actress in Ella Ballentine, Standoff is violent, unmerciful, and darkly confined. It's like Cujo without the snarling dog or 1990's Misery without good old Kathy Bates. First timer Adam Alleca directs in a clean and skillful manner. He starts things off with a bang by showcasing murders at a cemetery (how convenient). Then he lets everything eventually boil down to a slight creep. There are flashbacks, Larry Fishburne channeling his inner Samuel L. Jackson (with his Zodiac-style mask on you'd swear it was Jules Winnfield himself), blood spattering that looks like paintball wars gone wild, and hate begets hate banter between a couple of sweaty actors. In less than an hour and a half, everything mentioned evaporates as you watch it along with Standoff's scorched scenery and mild cowboy feel. This flick basically "stands" upright but it could have "delivered" a little better. Natch.

Anyway, the story is as follows: Bird (Ballentine) is a young girl who is quiet, mild-mannered, and loves to take pictures. Within the film's first ten minutes, she has camera in tote and is about to visit the graves of her parents who both died in a car accident. As she walks into the middle of an ongoing funeral, a contract killer (Laurence Fishburne as Sade) offs a priest and two other patrons who happen to be there. Bird sees Sade's face, snaps a photo of him, and flees to an old house owned by a fallen soldier named Carter (Thomas Jane). Sade ventures to said house and has to kill Bird because she is a witness. Carter keeping an eye on Sade with a shotgun, vows to protect Bird and won't let sicko Sade go upstairs to finish the job. (I mean gosh, this is a 9-11 year-old we're talking about). Therein lies the film's title. Add a couple of backstories about Carter losing his own kid and Sade having terminal prostate cancer and wallah, you have a nasty thriller oozing regret, despondency, and desperation.

All in all, I think Standoff as an uber Western, is far from being lackluster. I mean it keeps you somewhat enthralled and on the edge of your seat. Added to that, the music by Austin Wintory includes a whiff of calculated menace to go along with Standoff's obsession with the color red (red is associated with danger so that makes sense). I just wish the film's screenplay didn't cause two veteran troupers to completely over reach. Sometimes less is more as opposed to more being more. Now if I had to give out an acting prize, I'd go with the obvious non-veteran in young Ella Ballentine. As Bird, she exudes a level of sensitivity and empathy. Her relationship with Jane's Carter and her ability to look calm and contingent in the face of death, is the heart of Standoff.

Bottom line: This is a non-theatrical release with production values that are above the norm in the direct-to-video category. Standoff as fodder for walking off into the 2016 sunset, could easily pass for a Saturday night rental (don't forget the beer, antipasto salad, and the pizza). Rating: A strong 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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