The revenge film genre is a relatively easy narrative to get viewers to buy into. It taps into most people’s fantasy world while keeping them a safe distance from getting into any real trouble. The reasons may differ but there is some catharsis to be found in watching a character take back some sort of joy after being majorly wronged. Typically this is the topic du jour in Grindhouse type films. Ravi Dhar’s “American Muscle” takes a simple revenge premise and attempts to stretch it into a feature length film.
John Falcon (Nick Principle) has just been released from prison after doing 10 years. We are not sure what he was charged with initially but through flashbacks we see he was involved in a robbery which resulted in multiple deaths. He was shot in the back and left for dead by his own crew (who happen to dress like deranged biker clowns). He is now on a revenge-fueled mission to kill everyone in the crew that set him up, including his brother Sam (Todd Farmer) and former lover, Darling (Robin Sydney). As he makes his way closer to his brother, he deals with a surplus of unique obstacles in the form of his ex crew.
Director Ravi Dhar defines “American Muscle” as being Neo Grindhouse alongside such others like “Machete” and “Hobo with a Shotgun.” The major difference being those films like to wink at the camera in almost every scene whereas this film takes itself seriously most of the time. It hits all the typical Grindhouse notes with dusty locales, muscle cars, shotguns, hard rock and more nudity than you can shake a dead henchman at. It plays similarly to 1977’s “Rolling Thunder” however instead of getting back from Vietnam he is getting out of prison. Revenge movies only work if you buy into the main character and his motivations. Do they seem genuine? Would you think he’d be a good guy if none of this ever happened? Is everything he does leading up to the final scene worthy of us still feeling empathy for him? These are tough questions to answer in this genre and this film has a hard time pulling it off. Falcon is not a good guy. There may be moments that show us he’s not entirely unsalvageable as a human being but there is little remorse in his quest.
This is a film that delves head first into male fantasy and never bothers to come up for air. Within minutes of the film starting, Falcon gets out of jail and starts hitchhiking, only to be picked up by a nice-looking lady. After the briefest of small talk they have sex in her car on the side of the highway in broad daylight. In fact, for the remainder of the film, every girl he comes across ogles him with lust in their eyes. He also never misses a shot or runs out of ammo with any gun he has in his hands. Barehanded fighting comes with just as much ease as he takes on five guys at once, although it helps when they only come at him one at a time. Oh and knife wounds to the abdomen don’t hinder his ability to kick ass. And kick ass he does, and maims and buries hatchets into people. This is a movie that does not shy away from showing you the red stuff. Every gunshot that connects with a victim splatters widely onto walls, people and even the camera lens. What this film lacks in original ideas and plot it more than makes up with violence and T & A. You never have to wait too long for the next does of either.
IMDB lists this film at 90 minutes but the display info on my BD player showed me 1hr 17 minutes with credits. For such a condensed running time there is an awful lot of padding with elongated driving scenes and many flashback scenes in which the same footage being used repeatedly. However much money was spent it shows in mostly the right places. Occasional dolly shots and tracking shots help give it a professional sheen. Unfortunately that’s where most of the praise lies. The rest of the simple story is told in muddled flashbacks that never have an indicator that you are no longer watching the present time. It can be confusing to pick up on.
Well Go USA’s 16:9 image is technically proficient. The 1080p transfer is clear with some moments of nice contrast during the daytime scenes in the desert. However during the nighttime scenes the contrast starts to have some trouble with blacks turning to grays. There are moments of pixelation during the dustier scenes. I did notice some slight stuttering around the 6:30 mark and there is some telecine wobble in opening credits which may or may not be unintended.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a nice surprise especially with the bass. All the muscle cars growl fiercely and gunshots are piercing and accurate. The speakers are used effectively displaying a nuanced soundstage even in the quieter desert scenes.
The main extra is a commentary track by director Ravi Dhar. This is an interesting listen as he openly admits this was a tough movie to shoot with the budget being the main focus.
If you like biker movies “American Muscle”, while displaying it’s low budget everywhere, has enough requisite t & a, gunplay and bloodshed to give you a quick fix. And it is quick at under an hour and twenty minutes. There is not much for extras but the video and audio are above average for this quality of film. Meekly recommended.