End of Loyalty (2023) Review
Carmine (Michael DeBartolo, The Sleep, City of Lies) is attending a business meeting with his rival Rooker (Vernon Wells, Commando, The Christmas Tapes). He’s got his son Grant (Justice Joslin, The Last Train, Here and Now) and bodyguard Vincent (Simon Phillips, Blood Harvest, The Nights Before Christmas) along with him. Yes, he’s that kind of businessman.
When Grant asks him why they aren’t bringing more backup, he tells him he worries too much, “This is a business call. And this guy’s always been professional”. Yes, he’s that kind of stupid and soon ends up very professionally dead. Grant, who takes a bullet as well, wants revenge.
Director Hiroshi Katagiri (Gehenna: Where Death Lives, Love Hurts) and writer Chris Preyor (Ascension, Open Wounds) get End of Loyalty off to a rough start. I was going to cut them some slack for the lack of muscle, thinking the budget probably didn’t allow for hiring a lot of extra or a big shootout. But considering how many goons they have in some later fights, that didn’t seem to be the case.
Even worse, the issue between them is due to Carmine being the ancient cliché of the mob boss who doesn’t allow the selling of “that shit” in his territory. And then there’s the matter of Carmine sending Vincent, the professional bodyguard, to the car, leaving Grant as his backup.
Ray (Braxton Angle, East Plains: Get Out!, Christmas with Felicity) is a federal agent who just had his cover blown. He’s back at the office trying to calm down when he gets a call from his dad (Michael Paré, Bridge of the Doomed, Captors). It seems the father of Ray’s former best friend was killed, and he’s ready to go to war for revenge.
End of Loyalty’s script spends too much time trying to make its leads seem like nicer guys than they are. Carmine with his scruples about what kind of crime he’ll allow and an exposition dump telling us how Grant was making an honest living until his wife died of cancer leaving him a single father and, Ray had left town by then, the only one there for him was his father so he went into the family business.
The whole, “they’re mobsters, but they’re really not bad guys” bit always feels false and the only place it belongs is in comedies. And while it does have occasional humorous moments, End of Loyalty is supposed to be a serious action film. So why not let the characters simply be a bunch of tough bastards and be done with it?
The same applies to Ray’s constant harping on the body count they’re racking up and saying they need to stop and let the cops handle it. If he’s that opposed to what Vincent and Grant are doing, why does he stick around and annoy everyone, including the viewer?
Plot wise, a lot of End of Loyalty is a familiar mix of good guys, bad guys, corrupt cops, and double-crosses. Since Ray is an expert in jiu-jitsu, we get the obligatory scenes of him tossing a gun away to waste time grappling with someone. Why not just have him conveniently run out of bullets like the bad guys do? And of course Grant’s daughter Jada (Tenley Kellogg, Faith Under Fire, Pursuit of Freedom) with the threat of being trafficked.
End of Loyalty does have a good amount of action for a low-budget film. There’s a shootout in a hospital that has better production values than much of what I see in low-end action films. There are also plenty of fights, mostly featuring Angle, including storming the warehouse where Jada is held and a final fight with Rooker’s lead goon Yukio (Shô Ikushima, Darc, Tramps Like Us). Unfortunately, some of the fight choreography is ragged and Angle is a bit too small to look convincing outmuscling two and three goons at once.
In the end, it’s a judgment call. The action scenes do deliver, but the script is overly derivative and full of heavy-handed sentimentality. I didn’t hate it, but it’s not something I’d watch again either. If you think you can deal with that, you’ll probably enjoy End of Loyalty more than I did.