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Cop-turned-filmmaker Ken Sanzel gets metaphysical about guns in Blunt Force Trauma, inventing a fictional sport in which bullets can kill without even penetrating the skin. Pairing two practitioners for a road trip in which one seeks revenge and the other aspires to beat an elusive champion, the film is more moody than vital, discarding some of its built-in kicks in favor of brooding over the nature of violence. True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten may be the pic’s central gunslinger, but Mickey Rourke is its main source of weird charisma — albeit an elusive one, not seen until 80 minutes in. Commercial prospects are iffy given the film’s ambivalence about satisfying genre expectations.
Kwanten is John, who travels around South America engaging in (mostly) non-lethal human cockfights: Two contestants enter an arena wearing bulletproof vests, then each shoots the other’s torso until one of them no longer can stand in his designated circle. (It’s a “foul” if you accidentally hit your opponent where the vest doesn’t cover him.) However much sense the game makes, Sanzel and his designers envision it vividly, showing how its physical details and rituals change from one locale to the next.
Most countries have banned the game, hence the international group of players hunting down one illicit match after another here, betting whatever they can afford. John, carless, pairs up with a player called Colt (Freida Pinto, working very hard to look like a tough chick who belongs in this company). She has a car, and needs his help to find a player who killed her brother. John, meanwhile, is trying to earn a bout with Zorringer (Rourke), a legendary fighter who now stays in a remote area and lets only the best come to shoot at him. (Why he would do this, instead of accepting all comers and taking the easy money, is anyone’s guess.)
One convenient effect of John’s having to wait to meet Zorringer is that he has time to bed Colt. But their road-trip affair is dour, not hot, its most physically intimate scene a contrived “time for us to shoot each other” faceoff that, sorry for this, is a dramatic misfire. Each actor gets a single obligatory monologue about the meaning of this high-stakes way of life, and along the way we are told that even winning can eventually kill you: Colt explains to John that the impact of a high-caliber bullet causes shock waves through the body and can destroy internal organs.
Sanzel doubles down on solemnity with the arrival of Rourke (who clearly took care of his own hair and wardrobe). He and John have an introductory powwow in which only Zorringer’s parrot witnesses the zen-master-ish preamble to a duel that is “not about stakes” but “a moment of form and grace.” It’s also about tossing aside the Kevlar and doing things bare-chested, we learn — making all that fretting over the blunt force of a non-penetrating bullet kind of moot.
Production companies: ETA Films, Monogram
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke, Carolina Gomez
Director-Screenwriter: Ken Sanzel
Producers: Gary Preisler, Eric Brenner
Executive producers: Dean Blagg, Darrel Casalino, Jeff Elliott, Jason Gibson, Richard Rimo Moreno, Sonya Moreno, Gary M. Pollak, Jeff Rice, Gregory P. Shockro, Rob van den Berg, Mark van Eeuwen, Guirec van Slingelandt
Director of photography: Paulo Perez
Production designer: Maria Andrea Rangel
Costume designer: Ana Maria Urrea
Editor: Matt Mayer
Music: Darren Jackson
Casting director: Richard Mento
No rating, 95 minutes
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