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Lost Phoenix (2023) Review

“Imagine waking up and the world’s on fire”

Those words open Lost Phoenix, the ambitious indie action film that writer/director/actor James Couche has been working on since 2020, which is also the year the film is set in. They’re spoken by an amnesiac nicknamed Joe (Wan DraL) by his doctor. He’s just emerged from a five-month coma with no idea of who he is.

That proves to be a problem when ICE, acting on a tip that he’s an illegal immigrant, storms his hospital room. While he may not remember his name or be able to prove he’s in the country legally, he has remembered how to fight and promptly proves it.

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On the run, he’s taken in by Barbara (Lesa Cole, Tribulation, Volkov) and hires a detective to find out who he is. But when a meeting with them turns into a double cross he finds out his name is Issac and several people including a man named Gunnar (Marcus Lawrence, The Mennonite of the Living Dead, Reversal) want him dead. And there’s a sniper named Layla (Eliza Kelley, Black Creek, The Notorious Finster) whose intentions are a mystery.

Now this is far from an original plot, pretty much every action hero has done a variation on it, with the best one probably being Headshot with Iko Uwais and Universal Soldier being a close second. While not having the resources or the star power of those films, Couche gives Lost Phoenix an enjoyably convoluted plot that takes in the events of the time.

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BLM protests, Blackwater style private armies, outside agitators and of course COVID-19 all figure into the story and Joe, or should I say Isaac, needs to stay alive long enough to figure out where he fits into it as well as if he was as evil as it appears. This gives his story something of a redemption arc, one that’s mirrored in that of Oz (Josh Videna, Johnny Z, Afro Samurai Champloo), a drug dealer who gets caught in the middle of the conflict.

The final showdown manages to work guns, knives, fists, feet and even a sword fight into a neatly staged battle. There is a bit too much talk, especially from the head of the organization, Talbott (David Norton, Dark Awakening II: Battle of Krotanna, Necropolis). But, while he does give the obligatory “villain speech” it actually sounds on point, like one of the “manifestos” you’d find on YouTube or Twitter. The flip side of that is it also means that some viewers will see him as Lost Phoenix’s hero.

Lost Phoenix is not without its problems, though. The ICE subplot is dropped almost as quick as it comes up, becoming a plot device to force Isaac out of the hospital. After the beating he gives the agent, I’m sure they’d be gunning for him, and it would have added another potential layer of danger. It also could have used a better final scene. Ending with a shot that looks like it came from all too many old TV shows was a bit of a letdown.

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But it’s the action that’s the draw here, and after several shorts, Couche knows how to both stage and shoot them. Lost Phoenix has more scenes of mayhem than several of the mid-budget films I’ve reviewed recently. Given the film’s budget, they mostly involve martial arts and bladed weapons, but I’m fine with that given what low budget CGI looks like. Speaking of which it’s thankfully only used once that I noticed.

If you like low budget, high action films such as Nightshooters or Unit Eleven, you should enjoy Lost Phoenix. And speaking of Nightshooters, I’d love to see Couche do a film with Jean-Paul Ly.

Indie Rights Films will release Lost Phoenix some time in January. You can check the film’s Facebook page for an announcement.

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