Black Lotus (2023) Review
I was set to cover Black Lotus when it was released in the UK a month from now when, to my surprise, a friend announced it was our movie watch for the weekend. It seems it was released over here with pretty much zero publicity, which is never a good sign. But his enthusiasm “It’s got Frank Grillo and a seven-foot MMA fighter!” won me over. And since I was going to be watching it now, I figured I might as well write it up now as well.
Armed men have taken the German National Opera hostage and are demanding a three hundred million ransom. Three hundred million what is never mentioned but be it dollars, euros, or marks, they want three hundred million of them. After they shoot one of the hostages, Matteo (Rico Verhoeven, Kickboxer: Retaliation, Undercover) disobeys orders and opens fire. The hostages are freed but at the cost of his friend John’s (Roland Møller, Skyscraper, Atomic Blonde) life.
Five years later he’s working at a sawmill in Romania while in Amsterdam Shira (Rona-Lee Shimon, Frauda, Leak) and her INTERPOL squad have intercepted a drug shipment. This pisses off Gabriel Saban (Frank Grillo, The Resurrection of Charles Manson, One Day as a Lion) the mob boss behind the smuggling operation.
By coincidence Matteo is in Amsterdam as well, he’s visiting John’s widow Helene (Marie Dompnier, Black Hearts, The Inside Game), and her daughter Angie (Pippi Casey). Helene is now married to Paul (Peter Franzén, Ashes in the Snow, Vikings) a supposedly legitimate businessman who seems to have somehow lost fifty million Euros belonging to the already unhappy Saban. In retaliation Saban has Angie kidnapped, and Matteo is the only one who can get her back.
Black Lotus is meant to be a showcase for Verhoeven, a 6′ 5″, not 7′, kickboxing champion. Unfortunately, director Todor Chapkanov who previously directed Scott Adkins in Boyka: Undisputed, and has been a second unit director on films as diverse as Barbarian and Echelon Conspiracy, as well as writer Tad Daggerhart (The Expendables 4, Traffic Cone) seem to have been under the impression they were working with an established actor, not an athlete in their first major role.
After a flurry of action in the opening scenes the film lapses into dramatics with little beyond a nod to Dick Maas’ Amsterdamned to liven things up. Verhoeven isn’t the worst celebrity turned actor I’ve seen but he’s not that good either. Making matters worse for not only him but most of the cast, is that while Black Lotus is a Dutch film with, apart from Grillo, a Dutch cast, everyone is acting in English.
The last half hour is actually quite good with non-CGI explosions and several good fights including a rooftop showdown pitting Matteo and Shira against Saban’s chief enforcers Ber (Magnus Samuelsson, Medieval, The Last Kingdom) and Lo (Simon Wan, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Dog). Fight coordinator Radoslav Parvanov (The Princess, Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy) makes sure that when Black Lotus finally gets down to business, it delivers.
If Black Lotus had cut back on the dialogue and gotten to the action sooner it could have been a winner. Verhoeven is rough in many of his dramatic scenes but unsurprisingly looks good when he lets his hands and feet do the talking. He’s never going to win any Oscars, but he could have a future in DTV action films with a bit of work. Grillo has a fair amount of screen time and delivers an enjoyably slimy performance as the villain.
As it stands however Black Lotus is a bit too talky and doesn’t manage to divert the viewer’s attention from problems that range from some shaky acting to the odd sound of so many people speaking English with thick Dutch accents.
Black Lotus is currently available on Digital Platforms in the US. It will be available in the UK on June 19th via The Movie Partnership and in July from Defiant Screen Entertainment in Australia and New Zealand. If this hasn’t taken the fight out of you, FilmTagger can suggest some similar films for your viewing pleasure.