The Gardener opens on a note meant to trigger memories of Charles Manson and his family. The first thing we see is a masked home invader killing a pregnant woman as she begs for her unborn child’s life. It’s certainly an attention grabbing opener.
From there we move to an estate in England that’s home to a family of British actors with bad American accents, Lauren (Nicola Wright, Hatched, The Jack in the Box: Awakening), Stephen (Richard Kovacs, Cam Girls) and their two teens Hannah (Sarah T. Cohen, Medusa, Witches of Amityville Academy) and Justin (Jake Watkins, It Came from Below, Werewolf Castle). They seem to be in some kind of financial crisis but can still afford servants including Peter (Robert Bronzi, Escape from Death Block 13, Cry Havok), the gardener.
Unknown to them, the gang responsible for the opening scene’s bloodshed have their eye set on their house. They plan to move in after the family has left so there will be no killing this time, per their boss Volker (Gary Daniels, I Am Vengeance, Skin Traffik). What do you think the chances of that happening are?
Despite getting off to a fast start, the script by Ben Demaree (Bring Him Back Dead), best known as a director of photography and camera operator on films like Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark and Jersey Shore Shark Attack quickly falls into clichés and domestic drama as we get introduced to the bickering, dysfunctional family and the quiet Peter who is elusive about his past and hasn’t seen his own family since “the war”.
Between the opening scene and somewhere around the forty-five-minute mark the only action in The Gardener is a brief scene of a shirtless Daniels taking care of three incompetent goons. While he’s not quite in Stallone’s league, he does look good for a man who is close to sixty.
Directors Scott Jeffrey (The Mutation, Bats) and Rebecca Matthews (The Candy Witch, Cannibal Troll) try for suspense as the gang, mindful of Volker’s orders and temper, try to stealth their way around the estate in order to find whatever it is they’re looking for. But that doesn’t really work because we know that eventually The Gardener’s third credited director, stuntman/action director Michael Hoad (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Mummy) will have to step up and take over.
And once he does and the action starts The Gardener becomes a pretty good film, as divisions in the ranks of the villains, including one who is looking for a reason to go on another killing spree, ramp up the danger. Of course, it turns out Peter doesn’t talk about his past because it’s a violent one and he has to reconnect with it if anyone is going to get out alive.
There are a few moments when the fights seem to be enhanced with some camera trickery and the CGI blood is, as always, annoying. But things like a hand being fed into a lawnmower are still quite effective. Less effective are some extremely unlikely, if expected, coincidences and an attempt to throw a twist at the viewers. Also, and this may be my personal bias showing, but I just don’t see a conventional style fighter like Bronzi taking out multiple black belts.
Performance-wise, Daniels looks a bit like Nicholas Cage at times, and his constant screaming of “FUCK!” seems to be channelling him as well. The Gardener does however show that, while his greatest strength is still his resemblance to Charles Bronson, Bronzi can, when he has a director a bit more competent than Rene Perez, handle a dialogue scene without embarrassing himself.
This is a step up for Jeffrey and Matthews. Daniels and Bronzi are easily the biggest names that they’ve worked with. And while they have worked with executive producer Jeff Miller (The Toybox, Strange Nature) before, this time he’s joined by Mark L. Lester. Yes, the director of films like The Class of 1984, Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo is involved with The Gardener as well. It’s also the first time they’ve released something through a distributor as big as Lionsgate.
While the results are still fairly middle of the road by DTV action standards that’s still a lot better than we usually see from them and better than most of Bruce Willis’ recent films. And better than anything in the past ten years starring Steven Segal’s stunt double for that matter. The Gardener is available on DVD and VOD via Lionsgate. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.