Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Riot (2016)

Director: John Lyde
Notable Cast: Matthew Reese, Dolph Lundgre, Danielle Chuchran, Chuck Liddell, Michael Flynn, Renny Grames, Eve Mauro, Melanie Stone, DL Walker

Riot is the reason that I spend hours upon hours dredging through the straight to home video news and sections at movie stores. The low budget action genre is certainly one that doesn’t necessary promote lots of thoughtful execution and surprising quality as a whole, but there are always little diamonds to be found in the coal that entertain. Riot is one of those films. Truthfully, I picked up the movie because it had Dolph Lundgren in it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Dolph. What I found in Riot though was one of the better B-action films of the year and one of those special finds that makes digging through the crap worth the time and money. Riot is a blast. It’s a heartfelt and surprisingly well made little actioner with enough charm and solid action set pieces to satiate any action craving fans might have. It’s hardly perfect, but hot damn if the intention to make a good movie isn’t there.

It’s prison time for ex-police officer Jack Stone (Reese). After killing his corrupt partner, he’s placed in the same prison as a vicious Russian criminal (Liddell) who still runs a lot of his business from inside his plush cell. When Stone meets William (Lundgren), a prisoner with his own mysterious intentions, he senses an opportunity to strike back at the criminal mastermind behind the death of his wife.

Matthew Reese is hoping more people see this movie and put him in more action movies like this.
Prison movies are, more or less, a dime a dozen anymore. They are cheap to make, easy to produce, and remain entertaining even on their more basic levels. Riot, even at its best, isn’t able to rise above many of the clichés that come with the territory of making a prison film. It tries to add in a police and political corruption angle that feels like padding at times, particularly because the journalist subplot never feels nearly as fleshed out or as clever as it might have. So there is an attempt at deepening the writing to create a more complicated film. Partnered with the rather cliché elements of a badass ex-cop looking to take vengeance on the criminal that killed his wife (this is B-action movie 101 character writing, I guess) and Riot rarely inspires a lot of love for its formulaic script. Even when we discover an FBI plot within the prison walls, it doesn’t quite gel like one would hope. The intent is there, powered by heartfelt intent from the writers and film makers, but it’s not nearly as smart as it tries to come off as.

It’s not very often that I go into one of these B-action films looking for a smart, fresh script though. I certainly didn’t take that path for Riot either. Luckily, the film works because it tries to be better than it should be and it’s executed with a sense of charisma and entertainment that only comes around once or twice a year in the direct to home video market. Riot is a blast when it simply does what it does best: action. Matthew Reese is a shockingly effective lead in the film, taking a run-of-the-mill character and giving him enough gravitas to hold the film down and owning in the fight sequences. Director John Lyde plays things old school with his visual approach, allowing the fight scenes to unfold in front of the audience unedited and with a steady hand. There is very little shaky cam and flash edits and that’s a huge selling point for the film. By the time Riot adds in the screen stealing fun of Dolph Lundgren (and an underused Danielle Chuchran, who ably steals a lot of scenes and sports a great screen presence herself and sparkling chemistry with Dolph) the film is just layering in awesome B-action elements that will have fans craving more.

That's the spirit, soldier!
Riot is rarely perfect, but the film has an energetic excitement to its execution that does lift it above its mediocre writing. Strong charisma from its cast, a director who understands the old school appeal of shooting action scenes, and an effective pacing make Riot one of the best action films released so far in 2016. It’s silly at times and perhaps a bit too formulaic, but dammit it has that fun and entertaining aspect down. What more could one really ask for from this kind of movie?

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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