A hitman finds redemption in the innocence of his latest target.
Ah the hitman/hitwoman. The character is a genre film favorite for understandable reasons, and they typically fall into one (or both) of two types. They’re either slick and cool as hell (John Wick) or they’re highly efficient and held back only by their humanity (The Professional). Director Jonathan Mostow‘s (Breakdown) latest falls into the latter category, and while it can’t touch the heel of Leon’s worn leather shoe it’s still an entertaining-enough diversion.
A wealthy couple and their maid are gunned down by an assassin, and their teenage daughter Ella (Odeya Rush) is next on the list. She had actually been targeted previously, but the killer assigned to the task refused to act. Lucas (Sam Worthington) refuses to sit back this time though and while other assassins converge on the girl he moves in to rescue her. It’s a bumpy road of understandable distrust made even more complicated by his heroin addiction, but the pair form a truce of sorts that gets her to safety. It doesn’t last long though as her own desire for revenge leads the pair into the lion’s den with the very people who want her dead.
Mostow knows how to craft simple and effective action sequences, and those are the beats that work best in The Hunter’s Prayer. Less successful though is a script intent on adding dull “depth” and the cliched theme of bad fathers into the mix without the benefit of fresh insight.
First though, the action is good stuff. Mostow offers up a car chase that moves from cramped city streets to the dark winding roads of the coast, and while the latter is maybe a bit too dimly lit the sequence is as exciting as it needs to be. Most of the film’s action though is of the gun play and fisticuffs variety, and the scenes are staged and choreographed well with Worthington getting his hands dirty in some suitably messy brawls.
The “bad dads” theme is driven home a bit too hard though with not one but three examples unfolding before our eyes. Ella’s father ignores her and sends her off to private school, and Lucas is himself an absentee dad with a wife and daughter who he abandoned years prior. His work as a killer as well as his drug addiction play a role there, but it’s his guilt over their absence that fuels his desire to help Ella. These two would be enough to make the point, but the script (from John Brancato and Michael Ferris, both Mostow regulars having written his Bruce Willis sci-fi/action picture Surrogates) feels the need to up the ante further. The film’s main villain (Downton Abbey‘s Allen Leech) is a wealthy prick who we see berating his own young son for failing to achieve perfection on the archery range.
We get it. Bad dads are the worst.
Performances are competent to fine across the board with both Worthington and Rush finding an uneasy chemistry amid the bullets. One scene that’s meant to be powerful — she catches him attempting to shoot up his next fix and gives him grief for it — is hurt a bit by the fact that he’s standing in front of the girl with his pants down, but the pair play it straight enough that it almost succeeds. The villains don’t fare as well, but who cares… they’re probably gonna die anyway.
The Hunter’s Prayer is a fast, forgettable watch that will hold the attention of action fans for its short running time. Mostow deserves better though than what amounts to a second rate, direct to DVD action picture. Give the man a better script, a slightly bigger budget, and get Kurt Russell back on the phone. The world’s ready for Breakdown 2: Can You Believe Our Luck Honey the Car Has Broken Down Again.