With sci-fi actioners Surrogates and Terminator 3 already under his belt, director Jonathan Mostow should have no trouble handling a real-world Euro-thriller like The Hunter’s Prayer, yet control of the narrative appears to rapidly slip from his grasp as the movie’s implausibilities mount. What should be a reliably entertaining, if not especially original, replication of well-worn crime-thriller conventions instead turns into an enervating slog. Audiences seeking mindless diversion are more likely to discover The Hunter’s Prayer on VOD than in theaters, where it doesn’t have, well, a prayer of lasting past opening weekend.
Antihero assassins come in various guises, from scruffy John Wick types to sophisticated Jason Bourne exemplars, but Stephen Lucas (Sam Worthington), a needle addict with deadly aim, doesn’t really fit the mold. His mile-wide sentimental streak taken together with his rather unrelenting drug habit would seem to make him entirely unsuitable for the profession. Nevertheless, British drug kingpin Addison (Allen Leech) sees fit to send him on assignment to track down teenager Ella Hatto (Odeya Rush) at her posh Swiss boarding school.
Addison has ordered Ella’s elimination after discovering that her dad has diverted $25 million in illicit revenues from his accounts. A father himself, Lucas hesitates when he gets an opening to gun Ella down at a Montreux nightclub where she’s partying with her boyfriend, well aware that his colleague Metzger (Martin Compston) has already assassinated her parents. Lucas becomes a mark himself as soon as he violates Addison’s orders by grabbing Ella and evading his employer’s armed pursuers in a high-speed chase.
It’s not until they cross the French border and Lucas can get his fix that he reveals to Ella that he’s actually her killer, not her rescuer, barely managing to keep the girl in his confidence after taking a bullet for her when Addison’s thugs catch up with them. Realizing that Lucas may be the only one who can actually protect her, even if she can’t trust him, Ella must decide whether to help him recover before confronting Addison, or to go after her parents’ killer alone.
Drawing on the details of Kevin Wignall’s original novel, screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato (who both partnered with Mostow on Surrogates and Terminator 3) endow the plot with a certain thudding obviousness that makes developments easy to follow, but renders them almost completely uninvolving at the same time. For instance, the fact that Lucas’ motivation to protect Ella stems from Addison’s threat to kill off Lucas’ estranged wife and teen daughter carries little weight, since he’s never shown interacting with either of them. Not that Addison makes for much of a villain anyway — without his bodyguards and attack dogs, he’s little more than an overgrown schoolyard bully.
Worthington, whose aptly named Full Clip Productions co-produced the feature, takes his role way too seriously, neglecting to indulge in the occasional dark or self-deprecating humor that so often makes a well-done B-movie such a worthwhile guilty pleasure. Rush continues to gain visibility following appearances in The Giver and Goosebumps, but her Prayer role as a helpless tagalong remains too underwritten to draw much attention.
Mostow’s talent at bringing on the mayhem is never in doubt, though, with enough shootouts, car chases and sniper ambushes to maintain the moderately enticing pacing. The action falters a bit when attention shifts to the rocky relationship between Lucas and Ella, but cinematographer Jose David Montero and editor Ken Blackwell succeed in getting things back on track with a consistent succession of energetic chase and fight scenes.
Production companies: FilmEngine Entertainment, Full Clip Productions, Vandal Entertainment
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston, Veronica Echegui
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Screenwriters: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Producers: Tove Christensen, James Costas, Paul Leyden, Navid McIlhargey, Christopher Milburn, Anthony Rhulen, Paul Rock, John Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, Michael Wexler, Sam Worthington
Executive producers: Devin Andre, Andrew Boswell, Juan Antonio Garcia Peredo, Hugo Heppell, Ildiko Kemeny, David Minkowski, Jack L. Murray, Gavin Poolman, Duncan Reid, Jonathan Mostow
Director of photography: Jose David Montero
Production designer: Tomas Voth
Editor: Ken Blackwell
Music: Federico Jusid
Casting directors: Mark Bennett, Gail Stevens
Rated R, 91 minutes