Hustle Down was directed by R. Ellis Frazier (Misfire, Legacy), written by Benjamin Budd (Rumble, Larceny), and stars Tom Sizemore (Abstruse, Traded), Paul Sidhu (2307: Winter’s Dream, Repeater), Bai Ling (Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, Crank: High Voltage), Noel Gugliemi (7 Deadly Sins, Furious 7), Kevin Gage (Heat, My Father Die), Vanessa Angel (Kingpin, Hall Pass) and Raymond J. Barry (Made in Chinatown, Falling Down). It’s about a criminal hired to take back a car filled with cash and deliver it to its owner amidst the chaos of several others attempting the same thing.
The Plot: Ensemble crime/action movies are hard to get right, with plenty of different end goals, participants, and maintaining a consistent thread all playing a role in the quality of the story. Frazier and Budd have trouble with most of the above.
Turk (Sidhu), a driver for hire, has just made a drop-off of human resources and is called on by Jefe (Barry) to find Cully (Sizemore) and the car he has, which is soon revealed to be loaded with money, and deliver it to Jefe. Naturally, they can’t ditch it or switch it or else it’ll be reported. This is one of the best parts of the plot; it makes sense and becomes a running joke throughout the movie. It’s a hot commodity, with a gunfight involving local gang members, which spurs their interest, and other mercenaries like Angel (Gage), who picks up associate Crystal (Ling) and begins a search for Cully and Turk.
Budd is loose with explanations, hardly justifying how characters are always in the vicinity of one another or know exactly where their targets intend to go. Cully splits to check on his wife Maria (Angel) and, in an example of the aforementioned issue, finds that Marcos’s fellow gang members, led by Diego (Gugliemi) are already there. Diego threatens Maria to get Cully to kill Jefe and Crystal finds herself sitting alongside Turk. Everyone gets twisted up with each other and the knots aren’t untangled by the movie’s end. Hustle Down has a decent conclusion but the janky direction makes getting there a problem.
It’s a blessedly simple story so there’s little to be confused by narratively, but Hustle Down is still messy.
The Characters: Some of the characters are good and fit in the canon of bumbling thugs trying to get a payday while others are blank slates that aren’t humanized, or at least characterized beyond looks.
Cully is a fun character to watch. He used to be a driver for Jefe but quit for unknown reasons. As mentioned, the movie struggles with motivations. He’s greedy and largely out for himself, often trying to escape from Turk, playing dumb for Diego, and profusely apologizing to both after being caught, there are moments where he succeeds. At some point his impromptu escapes had to work. Still, he tries to be a good father (if not a good husband) by dropping by in the midst of the chases to visit his daughter on her wedding day. He’s a mess of a character by design, and Sizemore did his best with the material.
Turk doesn’t really get much. He’s the straight man in the collection of goobers that make up the cast. All he wants out of the whole kerfuffle is to finish the job he’s being paid to do, but his mood changes over time and with the money being right in front of him, he can’t help but be tempted.
Crystal, Angel, and Diego are all pretty bland. Crystal was a prostitute (that’s what’s implied anyway) who is trying to be better, refusing sexual offers but nevertheless stripping and stealing cars. Angel is a gruff guy out for himself despite being hired by Jefe, and Diego and Marcos are hollow. Jefe’s own practices aren’t clarified and the man himself isn’t seen until the hour mark.
A quarter of Hustle Down’s eight characters are well-written and half of the eight are fun to watch but the ensemble is missing a strong villain. While no one really needed to be developed, there needed to be an impactful driving force.
The Action: Hustle Down had the benefit of a variety of locations. Most of the action consists of average execution, the backgrounds are at least something different.
Frazier starts out with more playfulness in the first action scene. Cully is introduced in media res, with a henchman following him through a marketplace. Once they lock eyes, Cully tries to make one of his escapes but knocks over some bags of Doritos and steps on them, giving away his position. Turk is a deus ex machina here but the tone of the action fits far better in the movie, which has a lightness to it, than the seriousness of a lot of the action scenes that follow.
A shootout happens in the middle of a traffic jam and there are some minor scrapes that follow, but they’re directed without much flair. While the choreography is decent and the characters shuffle around behind the vehicles for cover, little of consequence happens as Cully, Turk, Angel, and Crystal all remain unharmed, as do the vehicles. Some damage to the “money car” could’ve been played for laughs to make the scene more impactful, or more violence could have taken place; either way, it’s not bad, just forgettable.
Once Cully reaches his daughter at her beachside bachelorette party, Hustle Down starts to get back into its comedic angle, with Cully in a hurry to retrieve his daughter while berating her despite being in the worst position imaginable. This scene manages to push most of the participants together and do some real smashmouth work, with tables being flipped, walls being blown apart, and Turk doing some Woo-esque diving while shooting. More of this would’ve done wonders.
For a low-budget action movie, Hustle Down’s action isn’t bad at all. It is, however, inconsistent tonally and misses opportunities to do things differently than its competitors, such as have a car chase where the car can’t afford to be damaged.
The Technics: It’s the misshapen script that does a lot of the damage to Hustle Down. Frazier does some passable work as a director and works within the clearly limited amount of money allotted to it, but there are still problems.
Budd didn’t bring much clarity to most of the characters, with some that seem to be all-knowing and others that are neglected for large portions of time. Angel, the main antagonist for most of the movie, disappears for stretches of 10 minutes at a time, making the movie with a host of threats feel vacant when he’s gone. His managing of tone is lopsided too, there are scenes played with laughs in mind followed with the battery of Crystal in short order. It lacks balance to say the least. The cast of venerable character actors try their best with what they had written for them, and some, like Sizemore and Gugliemi, succeed while the others fail.
Other production aspects are decent enough, like the camerawork, and some are pretty good, like the lighting. Hustle Down does lack impact though, relying too much on stock sound effects and CG blood. Occasions arise where this isn’t the case but are few and far between.
Between its confusing tone, knotted story, and average action, Hustle Down has some good characters, a fun premise, some good jokes, and a great cast. It’s an entertaining romp, but one that so clearly could’ve been more, even with its low budget.