Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Dead or Alive: Wanted Man (2024) Review

Director: Dolph Lundgren

Notable Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Christina Villa, Kelsey Grammer, Michael Pare, Roger Cross, Aaron McPherson, Rocko Reyes, James Pulido, Jose Trujillo


Dolph Lundgren made his directorial comeback with the highly entertaining Castle Falls back in 2021, and for an action fan like me, it was a welcome comeback. I’ve always been that one guy who defended Dolph’s directorial efforts, and now that he’s back behind the camera, I’m there. With his latest action thriller venture, Wanted Man, Lundgren is trying to balance classic action tropes and a slightly more modern (and, dare I say, socio-politically charged?) narrative. The result is an entertaining mixture of gun blasts, small-scale thrills, and a surprisingly compelling character arc for an older man trying to be better. 


After a relatively cliche opening, something found regularly in lower-budget action thrillers, where a drug deal goes south and leaves some DEA agents iced in the morgue, Wanted Man immediately goes into crafting the lead character that the audience will be partnering with for the run of the movie. Dolph, naturally, plays an aging Detective in Texas who, we quickly learn, has been revealed as a racist cop for viciously beating a Mexican suspect on camera.

Quite frankly, this opening act is surprisingly politically charged. Even the visuals provided by co-writer, director, and star Dolph aren’t hesitating to throw in some charged imagery, including showing the character, Detective Johansen, in the act of beating the suspect. Although the film certainly tries to thread the needle in not necessarily presenting the lead character in a wholly negative light (courtesy of a Police Chief who keeps up the entire “you’re not a bad guy” excuses), the film isn’t afraid to portray him as a raging asshole. It’s exemplified when he meets his cop buddies, featuring both Kelsey Grammer and Michael Pare, at a strip club and finds his problematic opinions of Mexican people magnified by his friends.


A part of me was really nervous about where Wanted Man was going at this point, but Dolph - as a co-writer, director, and producer of this film, knows what he was doing, and he wanted this film to carry some darkness and weight to it. From this point on, Detective Johansen is sent to Mexico as part of his PR rehabilitation to escort a couple of witnesses to the DEA murders from the opening. After a brutal attack on the police escort, Johansen is left wounded with Rosa, played with a massive amount of empathy by Christina Villa, and wanted for the murders of the police officers by their assailants. 


The latter half of Wanted Man continues to follow the straight-to-VOD blueprint for action thrillers where Johansen, played heavily into all of its layers by Dolph, relies on the people he was so viciously racist towards to heal up, clear his name, and uncover who wanted Rosa dead so badly. While the film features some pops of effectively shot and viciously violent small-scale gun battles - including a fantastic little home invasion set piece that demonstrates that Dolph knows how to show the power of a shotgun, its focus is not on the action. It’s on Johansen’s character growth in learning to empathize with the people he blatantly discriminated against. Dolph smartly builds relationships and drama throughout the second act to drive home its messages and character growth. The secondary characters might not be the focus, but they embolden the relationship between Johansen and Rosa in a way that makes the film feel so much more fulfilling than the usual low-budget actioner. 


Even though Wanted Man’s eventual reveal of the film's true villains isn’t shocking, particularly when it becomes apparent where the narrative is going overall, the film ends up feeling overly satisfying. It’s not often that a movie of this size has such a character-driven narrative, but here we are and Wanted Man delivers the goods in surprising ways. It’s the little film that could, taking its action thriller blueprint and embedding some thoughtful narrative beats and thematic punches that burst like gunfire. It’s well-directed, acted, and developed by Dolph, and if he keeps directing films like Wanted Man, I’ll be lined up for the next dozen. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider


  1. Félicitation de retour au cinéma Dolph Lundgren

  2. A star is born! Christina Villa was so good! Hoping for a sequel. We need to see what happened to her family. Plus I doubt the cartel will give up so easily. They're bound to be pissed to realize they were robbed by American cops.