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Lock & Load (2023) Review

Lock & Load, the sequel to 2021’s Holiday Monday, is once again directed and written by Nathan Shepka (When Darkness Falls, Hunting Season), though this time with a little additional script work by Tom Jolliffe (Renegades, War of the Worlds: The Attack). Shepka also returns as Nick, the independent security contractor. This time out he and his partner Derek (Colin MacDougall, Shadowland, Redcon-1) are taking some target practice on another bank holiday when they get a call from Agent Stokes’ (Graeme MacPherson, Holiday Monday) wife. He hasn’t come home, do they know where he is?

They don’t know, though we know he’s been after arms dealer Miles Steiger (Tony Macdonald, Game of Cones, Deep Shit) and his partner The Chess Master (Laura MacDougall, Solstice, Lads), “Everyone’s a pawn in my game”, and unfortunately has had his cover blown.

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I hadn’t seen the first film but Shepka’s script makes it very easy to pick up on the characters and situations, which is good because once Nick and Derek meet Stokes’ partner Logan (Stephen Kerr, Dragon Knight, The Devil’s Machine) things get a bit complicated, as is usually the case with films like this. Double agents, double crosses and shady characters who ain’t who or what they claim to be, they’re all there.

Similarly, the villains’ motivations true motivation grows in scope as Lock & Load’s plot unfolds. What started as selling 3D printed AKs and Uzis becomes something with much more significant implications. If it sounds a bit like an 80s straight-to-VHS film then you’re getting the idea. Two wisecracking guns for hire on a mission of vengeance against criminals with ambitions that threaten to outstrip the film’s budget. All you need is Gary Daniels, Olivier Gruner, or Roddy Piper to run out of bubble gum and start kicking ass.

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And, for a film that looks like it was made on a lower-than-usual budget, Lock & Load delivers quite a bit of ass-kicking. There’s plenty of gunplay, knife work and martial arts duels on display here. The fight choreography is quite good and there are plenty of spin kicks and other showy moves that recall classic era films from Bloodfist to Bloodsport. As an added bonus, the leads do their own fighting removing the need for cinematographer Andy Crane (3 Gun Gang, Kayla) to shoot around body doubles.

The frequent gunplay seems to be a mix of CGI and practical effects with the filmmakers making an effort to show some effects of the thousands of rounds being fired on the surroundings. That always helps sell me on these scenes though I wonder if those who grew up with cheap CGI action scenes even notice. The budget doesn’t always let them pull it off and the CGI blood spray is a problem as always, but it’s still much better than many similarly budgeted films.

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The film’s minuses are, apart from that, the usual ones for action films, characters who pass up an easy kill to trade punches with their opponent or who line their shot up and wait to be noticed instead of pulling the trigger, etc. But it’s easy to forgive them when a film delivers as much action as Lock & Load does. Its final act has more more going on than many mid-budget films.

A fun, fast-paced film that doesn’t take itself too seriously but does make the most of its budget and delivers plenty of indie action, Lock & Load should keep DTV action fans happy and win over some mainstream ones as well. I’m fairly sure we haven’t seen the last of Nick and Derek, and I’m OK with that, especially if the films get the budgets they deserve.

Lock & Load is available on Digital Platforms in the UK. You can check Shepka Prodution’s Facebook page for more information and announcements of releases in other countries.

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