Zero Tolerance (1994) Review

Zero Tolerance Poster

Zero Tolerance was directed by Joseph Mehri (Rage, The Newlydeads), written by Joe Hart (Cyber Tracker, The Force Within) and stars Robert Patrick (What Josiah Saw, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Titus Welliver (Man on a Ledge, Escape Plan 2: Hades), Kristen Meadows (Evolution, Santa Barbara) , Miles O’Keeffe (Ator, the Fighting Eagle, Waxwork), Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter (Marked for Death, Babylon 5: Thirdspace), Gustav Vintas (Lethal Weapon, The Creature of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park), Mick Fleetwood (Snide and Prejudice, The Running Man) and Barbara Patrick (Lord of Illusions, The Wizard of Speed and Time). It’s about an FBI agent who’s gunning for revenge against the cartel that used him and disrupted his life forever.

The Plot: Almost all of the crucial plot points in Zero Tolerance are standard revenge fare, from the protagonist being shown to have a decent life and the bad guys being irredeemable so-and-sos. There aren’t any surprises either, this movie is cut-and-dry revenge that doesn’t deviate from the distilled-to-a-science formula. FBI agent Douglas (Robert Patrick) is the sole survivor of an escape plan executed by White Hand Cartel leader Manta (Welliver).

Manta needs to get drugs from Mexico to Vegas by tomorrow to appease the other leaders of the cartel, so he forces Douglas to be a one-time escort for the White Hands or else his family (including his wife played by Robert Patrick’s real wife Barbara) die. Douglas complies but finds out that Manta has already killed his family and gotten away. It’s definitely rare to see the villain execute not one, but two plans that directly affect the hero, and Zero Tolerance doesn’t play nice.

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Soon after all this, the movie turns into an all-out retribution machine, with fellow FBI employee Megan (Meadows) watching Douglas work his way through LaFleur (Anderson-Gunter), Lee (Vintas), Vitch (Fleetwood), and Kowalski (O’Keeffe); all the other leaders of the White Hand to get to Manta. There’s just enough setup to get the movie going even if the details get fuzzy to provide more action sequences.

The Characters: While there’s about as much depth to Zero Tolerance’s characters as there is in a puddle, there are still some moments that allow the audience to attach themselves to the heroes and plenty of opportunities to hate the villains. Douglas is characterized by those around him. He had a couple of good friends in George and Gene, the agents that were with him when Manta escaped custody and a good family life with his wife and two kids.

Before the cavalcade of events involving Manta, he seemed balanced and by the book, but after everyone is taken from him it’s like a switch was turned off inside him and he’s on a one-way path of revenge. Simple doesn’t begin to describe his arc but Patrick carries the character with ease, giving emotion to what could’ve easily become a robotic caricature. Megan is just a sympathizer turned critic to alleviate the potential for Douglas to become another T-1000 role for Patrick.

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Manta is one of the slimiest bad guys in any movie. He taunts his fellow pushers, shifts blame to his own men and manipulates whoever he has to for power, which is all he wants. Like Douglas, Manta could’ve easily been an annoying hyperbole of gangster cliches, but Welliver’s casting keeps that from happening. Lee, LaFleur, Vitch, and Kowalski aren’t so lucky and quickly fade from memory as none of them are supplied with over-the-top evil or quality actors. Simplicity works in Zero Tolerance, keeping the leading hero and villain easy to understand and allowing for the also simple plot to keep things going.

The Action: Zero Tolerance takes pride in its action, hardly letting off the gas to get in some character, favouring shootouts, explosions, stunts, and spectacle. From the first action sequence in which Douglas’s stuntman (or maybe even Patrick) nearly gets hit by a flipping car after shooting its driver. Points must also be given for the action scenes inside of Vegas casinos and on the city’s streets. It’s a huge feat for any movie to pull off, made even more impressive when taking the modest budget into account.

As soon as Douglas starts his assault and takes down one of the five heads of the White Hand, Zero Tolerance somehow accelerates its pace even more and provides some impressive shootouts where Douglas dual-wields pistols and takes out a group of henchmen before dropping a sign onto a moving car. The movie doesn’t stop there either. It moves from Vegas to New Orleans where Douglas drives a flaming car through a building. There are plenty more action scenes and not a single one is a slouch. Mehri and his stunt team refuse to skimp on the action, and with a plot and characters as thin as what’s provided, that effort doesn’t go unnoticed.

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The Technics: Mehri knew how to do action but pacing a movie didn’t occur to him. It’s no secret that audiences watch action movies for the action, however, Zero Tolerance almost entirely neglects its characters; often trying to fit in entire characters in two-minute scenes. It’s obvious that no one wanted to break up the lightning-quick pacing but just a few minutes of downtime in the first act would’ve gone a long way in making the premise hit harder.

The writing has holes in it too. How Douglas knows exactly where to go, and when, to make the White Hand suffer is never explained. He appears where he’s needed and goes on to the next one. The sound design in Zero Tolerance is also worth noting because said sounds actually have the punch that the visuals do. Every shot, explosion, crash, and punch land with sufficient “oomph” and don’t leave the sights more visceral than the sounds. The scope of the movie is something to be seen, with several urban and populated locations used in the movie, numerous wide shots of the real Robert Patrick riding his motorcycle down open roads, and no shortage of expansive stunts.

Zero Tolerance is pure action. For better and worse. The plot’s simple yet manages to have holes, the characters are mostly flat, and there are near zero details about anything; but the movie is still enjoyable thanks to Patrick and Welliver’s performances, a myriad of impressive action scenes, and a breakneck pace. As far as mindless action movies go, this one’s got enough to keep the audience’s interest.

Despite having several releases on VHS and DVD over the years, Zero Tolerance is currently unavailable on DVD or Digital platforms. You can check with JustWatch to see if that changes and you can check FilmTagger for something similar.

Where to watch Zero Tolerance
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