Back in the days when Gary Cooper was patrolling Hadleyville in “High Noon”, there were certain Western genre structures that were reliably adhered to. The good sheriff, donning a white hat, needed to stop evil from coming into town and corrupting or destroying the inhabitants. That ran deep through most of the western genre. The television show “The Rifleman” was seemingly wholly based on that premise. Modernizing the Western genre can be done without sacrificing its core ingredients. There are still many small towns out west that embrace their removed locations, loving their anonymity. The same can also be an attraction for nefarious folk as a place to conduct their shady business. When those collide, you naturally get a standoff. Director Keith Parmer embraces those ingredients and immerses his film “Swelter” deep into them.
After a Point Break-esque prologue showing a masked team of thieves knocking over a money vault in Vegas, we are brought into the present and introduced to Bishop (Lennie James), a sheriff in the small Nevada town of Baker. All seems well as he has the respect of his constituents and a loyal deputy to help him with the small stuff. A bit of mystery is added that he suffers from amnesia and has bullet fragments in his head. Also happening, a small band of criminals have just reunited after some jail time and break out their last partner from prison. They are fueled by looking for their last partner who has disappeared with the loot from the Vegas heist. This reunified foursome, dressed with class in black suits, have no problem dispatching whoever is in their way including the police. The group is led by Stillman (Jean-Claude Van Damme) the fatigued crime veteran of the group who is more reserved and wise. His main partner is Bowler (Grant Bowler) who is also older and more seasoned. The two young’uns in the group are Cole (Josh Henderson) and the unpredictable Kane (Daniele Favilli) who can switch from calm to killing machines on a whim.
Director Parmer is going for a scorching experience here, from the title of the film, to the warm color palette, all the way down to the (maybe coincidental) name of the town (Bake-r). The bad guys constantly complain about the heat even though they are always wearing suit jackets. Parmer has a certain Tarantino/Rodriguez feel he is trying to accomplish and it is serviceable, however his editing lacks a certain crispness leading to stilted action scenes. And his backstory execution need some work. Victims/characters that die along the way which are meant to evoke emotional reactions are mere paper targets, fodder for the mill. There are also some plot points which are completely forgotten about for the sake of action. Why would one of the bad guys have a one-on-one gun standoff with the one guy who is the only link to the missing money? Parmer also has odd musical choices throughout the film that do not always fit the scene. There is an amateurish vein running through the entire production. At one point there is a visible schmutz on the lens which appears to have no artistic intention.
Overall it’s semi-violent film with anemic action and bad humor that falls flat across the board. Character dialogue does not fare well either. The script suffers from hackneyed dialogue such as “I just want to punch my ticket outta here just like everyone else” and other much used gems. There are traces of pulp here and there but they dissolve into overly dramatic scenes of heavy-handedness. The biggest shame is Van Damme as he is wasted and unceremoniously relegated to a meek exit. He has stepped away from pure action, which is fine, however, it’d be nice if he had just more of a presence in this type of film. Having said that, the acting is the biggest plus here. Everyone seems to enjoy their role and make it their own, especially Henderson and Favilli.
Well Go USA’s “Swelter” runs hot! The 2:40.1 framed 1080P image is heavily steeped in a warm color scheme to match its title and geographical location. Because of this, colors do not pop and the blood becomes a brownish, blackish hue. Detail is surprisingly good and surely does look like a hi-def presentation.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track does its job as well. Dialogue is clean and never an issue. Music has good presence in the soundstage. The gunfire, while lively, unfortunately doesn’t fully utilize all the speakers. The bass is widely used and surprisingly rich. There is also a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track. This is a nice sounding track.
The main extra is a grouping on interviews that clocks in just under an hour. The interviews are with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Keith Parmer (Writer-Director), Grant Bowler, Josh Henderson, Lennie James and Alfred Molina as Doc. There is also a high definition trailer for the film.
The geography may be hot but the execution runs cold. The script is hackneyed and scattershot, the direction is lacking precision and Damme is an afterthought. However, the performances are rather fun though, with each cast member doing well within their roles. Video and audio are quite good here which helps make it all go down easier. Recommended only as a rental for curious people of action and Van Damme.