Sometimes a casting announcement is all it takes to leave fans drooling in anticipation, and that’s rarely been more true than with Triple Threat. An action film headlined by Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, 2003), Iko Uwais (The Raid, 2011), and Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi, 2013)? With supporting turns from Scott Adkins (Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, 2013), Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite, 2009), and Jeejee Yanin (Chocolate, 2008)? It’s as if The Expendables was remade with action stars actually capable of kicking ass, and while it’s far from problem-free, Triple Threat is absolutely a ride worth seeking out for action fans.
When a Chinese heiress (Celina Jade) decides to use her financial muscle to take down a heavyweight crime syndicate the villains don’t take the threat lightly. They dispatch a hit team to silence the young woman, but fate has other plans as three men are forced to work together to save her. Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen) are mercenaries who realize too late they’re working for “some kind of criminal gang, really bad guys” when their efforts aid in the release of a terrorist menace named Collins (Adkins). Left for dead, the two escape and cross paths with Jaka (Uwais), a local whose wife was killed in the operation headlined by meanies Devereaux (White), Mook (Yanin), and Joey (Michael Bisping), and together the three reluctant heroes step up to save the heiress and avenge Jaka’s loss.
I can hear you from here… “Plot shmlot!” you say, “How’s the action?!” you demand. Happily, it’s good to great. Less happily, it consists mostly of gun fights. Back to happy again, the ass-kickery in the final thirty minutes is fantastic stuff as Adkins takes on Jaa and Uwais in a bone-crunching, muscle-stretching brawl.
Director Jesse V. Johnson started his career as third assistant director on Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990) but has since built a reputation as a reliable, fast-moving filmmaker capable of delivering terrific action sequences in direct-to-video genre fare. Triple Threat is his 15th feature as director, and he currently has two more in post-production. The man works fast, but while the quality wavers the one constant in his filmography is a simple one — if it stars Adkins, it’s going to be among the year’s best action films.
Triple Threat is touch and go in that regard as the fight scenes don’t really arrive in earnest until the film’s final thirty minutes. There are short scraps before then, but the vast majority of the action is gun play. To be clear, they’re more often than not entertaining, bloody, and well-crafted shootouts, but for most of the running time we’re stuck in a fairly generic action romp with martial artists firing guns instead of beating the shit out of each other. It’s a competent but uninspired journey to that third act, but it soon becomes well worth the wait as almost everyone is allowed to cut loose. Each of our three heroes gets a worthwhile one on one fight en route to the showstopper between Jaa and Adkins — the latter’s first fight in the movie!
The script is full of silliness allowing the three fast friends to bond and banter while making questionable choices including Jaka’s convoluted plan to get revenge on the bad guys — he’s hoping to avenge the murder of innocents and unwittingly sets up a slaughter of more. Smooth move Jaka! One late sequence seems to pause the film so they can enjoy a meal together, and it plus the addition of an unnecessary flashback serve mostly as momentum killers. They’re minor problems in the end, though, as the action eventually comes through.
Triple Threat is a big messy sprawl of a film that would feel at home in the 90s if it weren’t for the terrifically crafted fight scenes in the back end. It’s a frustrating wait as the talent is sitting right there, inexplicably not punching or kicking the movie forward, but the good stuff eventually arrives. Anticipation shouldn’t really play a role in evaluating a film, but it’s hard not to feel let down a bit waiting for that third act to roll around. That said, I’m already stoked for the inevitable sequel.