Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One in the Chamber (2012)

Welcome to beautiful Prague (at least in part played by beautiful Romania)! Ray Carver (Cuba Gooding Jr.) uses the city as base for his work as a professional killer. When Ray is not killing people, he's soliloquizing about his sinfulness, reading the bible, and stalking Janice Knowles (Claudia Bassols), the now grown daughter of one of his earlier victims, driven by a mixture of guilt and plain obsession he sells to himself as his wish to protect her from harm.

Right now, Ray's even doing his work in Prague, because he was hired by the resident Suverov crime family to wipe out the heads of the resident Tavanian crime family in one go. Unfortunately, Ray's strict "no innocent bystanders come to harm" policy gets in the way of his job, leaving the Tavanians with a not completely incompetent underboss in charge, and Prague in the grip of a gang war. Understandably, the Suverov's aren't at all happy with Ray's performance, so they fly in the near mythical hitman Aleksey Andreev aka "The Wolf" (Dolph Lundgren). Aleksey is a rather different kind of killer than Ray, clearly not driven by a guilty conscience, proclaiming his generally violently chipper mood by wearing loud Hawaii shirts, and given to a much more direct approach than Ray, though he does share Ray's ideas about killing civilians.

When Ray and his handler (Billy Murray) hear of the new man in town, they decide to change sides and work for the Tavanians now. Not surprisingly, Ray and Aleksey are headed for a collision course, and Janice just might get right in the middle of it.

One of the more peculiar developments in movies in the last few years is surely Cuba Gooding Jr.'s new career as a direct-to-DVD action hero; perhaps even more peculiar is how good Gooding is good at his new career, showing enough physicality to be basically believable as a man of violence, and obviously bringing more acting chops than he'd strictly need for the job, which pushes the scripts of the films he's in into slightly more complex directions than you find in something starring someone who wasn't even a decent enough actor for professional wrestling. That tends to make the characters Gooding plays more sympathetic than is the rule in direct-to-DVD action outside the body of work of Jean Claude Van Damme, too. It applies even to a character as much as a self-pitying fool as Ray is, the kind of guy who loves to moan about the guilt being a professional killer brings with it, yet never does anything about it, like stopping to murder people for money, for example.

Additionally, Gooding actually stars in the films he's supposed to star in, and doesn't go the slightly prolonged cameo route as Jean Claude Van Damme or his partner in this outing, Dolph Lundgren, often do. Consequently, there's much more Cuba than Dolph in One in the Chamber but the film's script handles the situation appropriately. In fact, it would make little sense if the two leads had more scenes together. When Lundgren is on screen, he takes on the violent and crazy yet likeable persona that he fills in many films at this point in his career. He's grown rather good at it by now, and is one of the few actors in action movies who can make the wholesale slaughter of a dozen other people somehow look good-natured. If that's always a good thing, I'm not always sure about.

It is a bit disappointing that One in the Chamber's script doesn't make as much out of the strange juxtaposition of its two main characters as I would have wished, but then, Cuba and Dolph (sounds like a sitcom title if ever I saw one) would need to interact more for it to work, which clearly was right out for the production. I'm also not really happy about the (non-)solution to the plotline between Ray and Janice, or rather, about the much too easy and straightforward way the film ends it, taking what should be emotionally heavy, and not a little creepy, stuff and trying to just wink it away.

On the positive side, there is enough complexity here to keep the very basic gang war plot lively, and what the script lacks in dramatic unity, it makes up for with a love for small and colourful details that don't exactly make the world it takes place in believable but protects it from feeling like the series of clichés it actually is. Which is more than I ask of this kind of film, and more than enough to keep me entertained throughout.

It helps that director William Kaufman aims for filming the kind of action scenes the human eye can actually comprehend, which also just happens to be the kind of action scene I find actually fun to watch. As a visual extra, Kaufman also doesn't dive too deeply into the colourless colour film rabbit hole, leaving my eyes delighted by the existence of other colours than yellow and blue, or, in the case of Lundgren's shirts, nearly blinded by them.

No comments: