Back when I reviewed Purgatory Road I said it might be the film to finally put director Mark Savage over in the US market. Instead, he dropped off the map for four years. Now he and co-writer Tom Parnell back with Painkiller, a sequel to their 2016 dark comedy Stressed to Kill which I haven’t seen.
That film featured Bill Oberst Jr. (The Good Things Devils Do, The Parish) as Bill Johnson, a man who takes the doctor’s advice to get rid of stress a bit too literally and starts killing those who annoy him. In Painkiller, originally titled Stressed to Kill: Doctor’s Orders, he’s back, but his killing has a different focus.
Bill is a radio talk jock. His shows revolve around drug addiction, especially opioids which his daughter fatally overdosed on. He’s also the masked vigilante known as Six Shooter who’s been emptying revolvers into pharmaceutical company CEOs, pill-pushing doctors, and the occasional street dealer as well.
He’s got his sights on Alan Rhodes (Michael Paré, The Penthouse, Triassic Hunt) a doctor we see trading a prescription for a blowjob. But Rhodes is even scummier than that, he’s trying to steal the patent on his ex-partner Thomas’s (Tom Parnell) new heart medication which also happens to be a powerful opioid. Tom, I should add, was also the doctor who saved Bill’s life in the first film.
If this sounds like Death Wish with an updated agenda you’re partially right. The script evolved out of the death of Parnell’s son due to a mix of opioids and alcohol. The case Bill relates about a friend who became addicted after being prescribed them after knee surgery is based on one of Parnell’s friends. That would also explain why the script feels so heavy-handed and preachy at times. I understand his anger at those responsible for the opioid crisis but as a writer with several credits to his name he should know endless venting and dull kills do not make compelling viewing.
It’s also a bit harder to sympathize with Oberst’s character than many filmic vigilantes. The first person we see him kill is sleeping in his bed, another is an unarmed man shot in a park in front of a little girl. I find it easier to side with Paul Kersey or John Eastland trading bullets with the bad guys than someone who shoots people in their sleep.
This also makes Painkiller a bit less than exciting. We get long spiels about the evils of opioids, then Bill kills somebody. And he does it all, from breaking into houses without setting off alarms to ambushing people in broad daylight to taking out an armed goon with the greatest of ease. There’s never any sense of danger or threat to him. And if it’s explained where he got his ninja-like skills, I missed it.
If they actually fought back that might make a difference. But it’s not until the forty-minute mark that anyone fights back. And another twenty until anyone else does. Even the final confrontation is talky and dull. Painkiller is billed as a thriller, but this is neither thrilling nor suspenseful.
And it’s too bad because Oberst gives a great performance as Painkiller’s vigilante. He capture’s the character’s mix of rage and sorrow beautifully. And while his screen time is fairly minimal Paré actually does more than sleepwalk through the proceedings like he did the last few films I’ve seen him in.
If you simply want a revenge fantasy about someone executing mostly unarmed middle-aged guys who don’t fight back Painkiller should satisfy you. But if you’re expecting an action film or a thriller you’ll be seriously disappointed. It’s not only dull and preachy, it’s a major step backwards for Savage who can do, and has done much better work.
Cinedigm will make Painkiller available On Demand, Digital and DVD May 4th. You can check their Facebook page for more details.