January 20, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘Redemption Day’ review: A flat abduction thriller

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Gary Dourdan deserves better. The former “CSI” star, also known for “Alien: Resurrection,” has a strong screen presence that suggests something deeper beneath the surface. Unfortunately, his star turn in the abduction thriller “Redemption Day,” the feature directing debut of Moroccan producer Hicham Hajji, is not the tool to excavate that something. Although Hajji has assembled an impressive supporting cast, including Andy Garcia, Martin Donovan, Ernie Hudson and Canadian actress Serinda Swan, the script by Hajji, Sam Chouia and Lemore Syvan is dreadfully dull and underdeveloped, ridden with bland, limply delivered dialogue. There’s not a thrill to be found in this ostensible thriller, a rote kidnapping exercise taped together with digital blood spatter and an overly dramatic score, vaguely gesturing at global crises from five years ago.

Dourdan is Brad Paxton, a former Marine haunted by nightmares of an aid mission gone awry in Syria. His wife, Kate (Swan), is an archaeologist who has recently discovered an ancient city under the Moroccan desert she’s hoping will reveal important discoveries about the origins of human life. Brad encourages Kate to make the trip, but it’s not 24 hours before he receives the call that she’s been abducted by a French Algerian terrorist inspired by the Islamic State, Jaafar El Hadi (Samy Naceri), after she wandered across the Algerian border. For Brad, a hostage negotiator, that means it’s time to mount up and rescue his wife.

It’s your basic save-the-girl story, with all the obstacles and allies along the way you might expect, along with the sheen of a cheapie direct-to-video action flick. The combat sequences have all the intrigue of watching someone else play “Call of Duty”; the few fight scenes are profoundly leaden. Even the tech dude who should be the comic relief never delivers any jokes (aside from referring to himself as “XL Neo”). The wildly inconsistent production values from scene to scene make it feel like two different movies. There are computer-enhanced explosions, as well as many, many, long, extensive drone shots of various vehicles driving across the desert, but the Situation Room looks like they stole a shot in the corner of a mid-budget hotel business center, and then doubled that for the press briefing set.

You keep waiting for a twist that never comes, or something more to be revealed (and there are opportunities), but no, it’s straightforward the whole way through. Kidnapping, ransom, videos of bloodied hostages quaking before swords, Navy SEALs shooting the place up, etc. There’s some opaque discussion about the influence of the oil lobby on the rescue, as the cigar-chomping American ambassador (Garcia) and a sniveling diplomat of sorts (Donovan) hesitate to act because it might help some kind of oil deal. It’s never quite explained, despite opening title cards proclaiming the power and importance of oil, and an inexplicable 11th-hour appearance from a Foghorn Leghorn-accented oil lobbyist in full Colonel Sanders get-up who confirms its undue influence.

It’s easy to harp on the production issues that plague “Redemption Day” because there’s not much else to think about with a story this flat. There are no character arcs for these heroes. They act as you expect them to, leaving you to wonder if any significant personal growth happened before the events depicted in the film. Even the title is confounding: “Redemption Day”? For whom? For what? Those are the existential questions you might be asking yourself as the credits roll.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘Redemption Day’

Rated: R, for violence and language

Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes

Playing: Jan. 8 only, Arena Cinelounge Drive-in, Hollywood; starts Jan. 8 in limited release where theaters are open; available Jan. 12 on digital and VOD