Black Warrant (2022) Review
Black Warrant was directed by Tibor Takacs (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Blowback), written by Joshua A. Cohen (Red Herring, Starf*cker), D. Glase Lomond (Curse of Alcatraz, The Asian Connection), and Javier Reyna (Regionrat, Palido), and stars Cam Gigandet (Violent Night, Last Shoot Out), Tom Berenger (Sniper 3, Bad Country), Helena Haro (Promised Neverland, 40 Years Young), Hani Al Naimi (Soldier of God, Last Stop), Peter Nikkos (Othello, Circle of Eight), and Jeff Fahey (Battle for Saipan, The Commando). It’s about a DEA agent and a retired assassin whose paths cross while searching for a terrorist leader completing their respective missions with newfound complications.
The Plot: It’d be easy to rattle off a half dozen other movies with a similar plot to Black Warrant, but the difference always remains in qualitative execution. For today’s rendition, writers Cohen, Lomond, and Reyna go with a semi-competent but entirely inessential approach.
Retirements in Mexico are a dime a dozen in film, and ex-assassin Nick (Berenger) is enjoying his own when he’s contacted by LaRusso (Fahey) about taking one last series of jobs in the form of three targets in Tijuana, on behalf of a party Black Warrant never confirms. At the same time, another cliched situation has just played out: DEA agent Anthony (Gigandet) has performed a drug bust that brought in Polat (Nikkos), a money launderer with connections to terrorist leader Bin-Farri (Naimi), whose plans he’s willing to give up for a plea deal. If that all sounds rote, it’s because it is, and understandings about these parties are cursory at best.
Naturally, Nick crosses paths with Anthony, as Polat is one of his targets. Coincidences of this kind are plentiful, but they are hand waived by a later reveal that offers reasons for the mutual goal, but no sense of greater understanding. In his search for more clues pertaining to Bin-Farri’s alleged plan to take down the US economy (too late there pal), Anthony uses chef Mina (Haro) who soon becomes an element in the plot. None of the general beats will come as a surprise, as Black Warrant brings both leads together again in a typical team-up, but the villain’s scheme is somewhat creative, maintaining the movie’s merit.
The Characters: Takacs has the benefit of an effective cast, but the three writers couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Instead, they offer surface-level descriptions for each of the participants, leaving the movie to rely on typecast performers.
Anthony is a laid-back nobleman, switching from denying lucrative offers from those he arrests to making easy-going conversation with his surrounding Mexican officers and eventually with Mina. Although the relationship with Mina quickly and believably becomes romantic, the writers gave some insight into how the agent operates as he at first tries the passive approach in most scenarios, only to have to make bold plays when this fails; most notably resulting in Mina’s cooperation. Her cooperation is understandable because of Anthony’s charming personality, but aside from wanting to get into the Culinary Institute of America, she doesn’t have much to do or say.
Nick is blurrier than the already limited level of written characterization of the movie’s duo. He used to be hired by various American agencies to take down political and societal threats so said agencies could get away scot-free (isn’t that what the CIA already does?) but retired after a long time working due to an accident that killed a target’s family, who then retaliated in kind. He spends his time drinking and hanging around, and that’s about it, but Berenger fills in the blanks with ease via a terrific performance.
Villains aren’t much more than faces in a crowd during Black Warrant. Cohen, Lomond, and Reyna make sure to include a litany of assorted henchmen and toss around their last names with reckless abandon, rarely including so much as a motive among them. Polat is the biggest oddity, immediately throwing his boss under the bus for reasons never explained. With all of the poor definitions, it’s a great thing that the lead actors are able to charm.
The Thrills: Convention is largely followed throughout Black Warrant, as almost every major setpiece has been done countless times. That being said, the writers managed to avoid making them a complete bore by giving the villains a reasonable degree of intelligence.
Admittedly the start of the movie is the weakest part. Takacs attempts to set up a tertiary rivalry between Anthony and one of Bin-Farri’s guards by making the two lock eyes during the opening raid, followed by the man killing Anthony’s partner. It never lands, and neither does Nick’s eventual murder of Polat, which is done with the same rooftop positioning seen in at least one out of every five action/thriller movies released nowadays. Granted, the killer’s escape by wearing nothing but tourist clothes and concealing his rifle in a golf bag is novel at least.
Bin-Farri’s acquisition of the EMP-like device that can blackout a whole city has that idea already going for it, and the added benefit of Nick making a more direct appearance to take out his second target, who was at the sale. During that excursion, the seller snags the money from under Bin-Farri’s nose, forcing distrust between the two of them behind what happened. Thankfully, the writers don’t skip past this, as the baddies all sit behind closed doors and wait to see who’ll arrive at the restaurant they frequent (and which employs Mina, who comes into play) before taking action.
More typical thriller tropes such as the formerly parallel men of action (and the sidekick) team up and use their specialties to infiltrate the lion’s den where, of course, the bad guy stands over his tech expert and repeatedly asks how long it’ll take before the device is ready to go. This is a disappointing turn from a second act high, but this side of Black Warrant is still competent, equalizing the weakness of the opening, but keeping the picture from being an edge-of-the-seat effort.
The Technics: Given the synopsis, budget, and shooting location, it’s not hard to approximate the technical ups and downs the movie will have. A jack of all trades but a master of none, Takacs keeps things on a median level, never fumbling the way a lot of these B-pictures do.
It’d be reasonable to assume that financial restrictions were the reason why Black Warrant doesn’t make the best possible use out of its exotic Mexican shooting location, but that’s not to say the production ended up taking place solely in generic warehouses and abandoned buildings that facilitate many of the movie’s peers. Locations are generally glossy, with a fancy restaurant/social space, a beautiful marina, and an upper-class house being the chief settings of the movie, which add a level of visual value and distinction.
Other normal drawbacks fail to be worked around, such as frequent use of CG muzzle flashes, a subpar digital background or two, and stock sound effects (one of these days someone will record a different take of a car door closing). Audio is something that sticks out about the movie on more than a sound design level. A lot of the dialogue is unexpectedly lighthearted, acknowledging the tropes and innate silliness of some of the writers’ decisions. This tonal choice may not remedy the overall script choices, but it makes Takacs’s outing easier to enjoy.
Aside from its surprisingly amiable tone, most will know what they’re getting with Black Warrant; a feature that goes through the motions and has its fair share of drawbacks, but it does boast a few decent flashes and great work from Gigandet, Berenger, and Haro.