Gina Carano and Amaury Nolasco in IN THE BLOOD

Anchor Bay Films

Gina Carano found success as an MMA fighter, but my aversion to sweaty acronyms meant I first learned of her existence in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. She plays a CIA (more my speed) agent framed by her own people, and the film is basically her kicking one Hollywood leading man’s ass after the next including Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Antonio Banderas. It’s a combination of star power and a very frequent use of Carano’s impressive fighting abilities that makes the film so fun, but more than that, those elements helped deflect attention away from the sloppy script and her poor acting.

Fast forward three years later and she’s finally found a follow-up leading role, but oddly and unfortunately, In the Blood has very little clue what to do with her.

Ava (Carano) and Derek (Cam Gigandet) are newlyweds on their honeymoon in the Caribbean, and while his father (Treat Williams) has made his disapproval and mistrust of Ava clear Derek has chosen love over his dad’s concerns and worries. A local offers to show the couple a good time at a nightclub, but trouble arises in the form of a gangster named Big Biz (Danny Trejo) who forces Ava’s violent hand (and other hand and feet) into dishing out bone-crunching moves on the dance floor. Ava and Derek try to put the experience behind them the next day with some zip-line action, but a fall leaves him badly injured. Even worse? The EMTs kidnap him. Now Ava’s on a desperate mission to find her husband before it’s too late, and she’ll leave no island unturned and no islander unbruised.

The ambulance crew refuse to let her ride with them, but they tell her which hospital they’re going to and take off with their sirens blaring. Ava reaches the hospital only to discover that he never arrived, and the result is the same at every other hospital she checks. The situation’s bad already, but when she asks the local police for help the cop in charge (Luis Guzmán) makes it clear that she’s actually the number one suspect in Derek’s disappearance. Guess it’s time to beat up Luis Guzmán.

Ava breaks more than a few bones on her way to the truth, and that’s where Carano shines. This should surprise no one as while the past few years have seen some minor improvement in her acting ability her strength remains a convincing physical power and speed. She’s still one of the more believable onscreen fighters, and when she’s doing so here the movie clicks into place. For whatever reason though the movie and script (by James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin) have other ideas.

Basically, the film spends way too much time with things that aren’t Carano punching dudes.

It feels disingenuous to complain about too much character development, but when it’s as ineffective as it is here it feels like a production that didn’t quite know what they were getting with their star. If you land Carano as your lead by god her character should be kicking butt and taking names as frequently as possible. Instead Ava chats up a storm as the film wastes time with characters clearly meant as possible red herrings but even more clearly recognized as filler. She emotes a lot, but as already established that’s not her strong suit. It should have been obvious to all involved when the only fights she’s losing onscreen are acting challenges against Gigandet.

The script’s effort to build an interesting back story is appreciated, but it drops the ball in its lack of follow through. We’re given a brief look into Ava’s youth and the events that shaped her, but it’s done with little to no explanation or nuance. It’s a potentially engaging touch to have had Ava and Derek meet in rehab, but to not do anything with that fact other than share it makes it relatively worthless dramatically. Finally, the ultimate story resolution here comes out of the blue to teeter on the edge of preposterous. And I don’t use the word “teeter” lightly.

Director John Stockwell had a pretty good run in the 2000′s with films like Blue Crush and Into the Blue, but since 2006? Middle of Nowhere? Cat Run? Dark Tide? He can still bring outdoor scenes to attractive life, but he has trouble building drama here with cheap-looking digital photography and performers who fall into one of two categories — those who can’t act all that well and those who can but are simply choosing not too.

I’m looking at you Stephen Lang. To be fair to Lang his scenes are flashbacks filmed on a ten year old cell phone by a ten year old, but still.

It’s not all bad news as in addition to the paltry action we get from Carano there’s some fun to be had with the film’s baddies. No, sorry, not Trejo. Instead it’s the wonderfully sleazy Guzmán and the persistently evil Amaury Nolasco who get to show off their darkly charismatic sides while clearly having a ball.

It’s good to see Carano get another crack at a lead role, but In the Blood is not good. It wastes her greatest gifts by trying to stretch her and the film’s budget too thin, and it leaves the film with several pockets of dead air.

The Upside: Gina Carano still has some good moves; Luis Guzmán and Amaury Nolasco

The Downside: Not nearly enough of Gina Carano’s moves; heavy reliance on her acting and script’s twists doesn’t pay off; Stephen Lang sequences appear to have been shot on an old cell phone

On the Side: John Stockwell also acts, and while he’s cut it way back in recent years he’s still probably best known for his appearances in Top Gun and My Science Project.

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