Review: AMERICAN MUSCLE (2014)

On its surface, AMERICAN MUSCLE, (VENGEANCE ROAD in the UK), would appear to be a sure bet. It’s a familiar enough plot, a man seeking revenge on the gang that left him to take the fall for a heist gone wrong. A script by a writer who understood the revenge genre, having written and starred in the well enough done revenge film DEADEN. And plenty of fights and bare breasts. Sadly, just about everything that can go wrong does.

John Falcon, (oddly close in name to the film’s writer and actor John Fallon), is released from prison after ten years. All he wants is revenge on his former partners in crime, who left him to rot in jail. That and to see his wife (Robin Sydney, CORONA ZOMBIES EVIL BONG 777) again, despite the fact she’s taken up with the gang’s leader Sam (Todd Farmer, JASON X, TRICK), who also happens to be Falcon’s brother. Much mayhem and bloodshed ensue.

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When the film began with a voice-over from our lead, I had a bad feeling about things, and sadly I was right. Within the first few minutes, we’re treated to multiple shots of our hero lighting cigarettes and blowing smoke at the camera. A couple of long scenes where the guys involved are taking a leak. And an extended scene of a woman smoking while sitting on the toilet. I’m not sure if this was an attempt to make some kind of point or somebody’s fetishes, but it makes for an odd start to an action film.

And sadly, once the action picks up, it doesn’t help. The fights are poorly choreographed. And due to the miscasting of lead Nick Principe (THE 27 CLUB, XENOPHOBIA) devoid of any suspense. This isn’t a slight on the actor. At a height of 6’7” and weight of about 270 fairly solid pounds, he overwhelms the villains. He towers over the rest of the cast by nearly a foot and out masses everyone he fights by at least 50 pounds. He should have been cast as the antagonist, setting up a fight with the hero as the underdog. Instead, we watch him stomp guys much smaller than himself in fights that look like bad wrestling matches.

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How bad are these scenes, you might ask? Well, in one, he’s confronted by several bikers who run drugs for his brother. They attack him one at a time, even after he kills a couple of them with his bare hands rather than rush him. Finally, the last of them runs to get what looks like a pocket knife. He manages to slash Falcon once before he pulls a gun and shoots him. Yeah, a pack of badass bikers, and none of them had as much as a knife on them.

But even if the action scenes had been excellent the film would still have failed because there is nobody to care about. The gang is a bunch of scumbags who pretty much deserve what they get to be sure, but Falcon is just as scummy. Films like DEATH WISH or THE EXTERMINATOR knew they had to make their vigilante seem justified and had him suffer the death of a loved one, something Fallon himself went with in DEADEN.

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Here, though, we have a gang’s psychopathic enforcer killing people over a crime he was a participant in. Yes, it sucks they let him take the fall, but he’s far from an innocent victim either. He has no redeeming features at all. The audience has no reason to care if he lives. And several reasons to hope, he and the rest of the cast, die. Let’s face it, when you have your “hero” grinning while he beats a woman to death, you know you have issues. 

AMERICAN MUSCLE is available on DVD from Well Go USA

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