'Armed Response': Film Review

Armed Response Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Saban Films
Don't call it a comeback. No, seriously, don't.

Wesley Snipes and company are tormented by a lie-detecting supercomputer in John Stockwell's would-be thriller.

A team of commandos tries to secure a secret site housing a lie-detecting supercomputer in John Stockwell's Armed Response, but that's far from the whole picture. First-timer Matt Savelloni's, er, ambitious screenplay aims to pivot from John Carpenter-style under-siege thrills to a weird sort of supernatural-vengeance horror. But it fails on these and several other fronts, making an inauspicious choice for Wesley Snipes' first top-billed theatrical release since he got out of prison in 2013. The picture's idiocy might have been predicted from the press release announcing it as the first joint venture between geriatric sleaze-rocker Gene Simmons and the rasslin'-fueled WWE Studios: Guys, unless you're developing a creatine-fueled remake of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, maybe you shouldn't be in the movie business together.

Production costs appear to have been so low they could be recouped by targeting the few fanboys who get tingly at hints that Blade will be someday be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But those who come in because Snipes dominates the movie's poster will be puzzled to see how little he contributes to the pic, in which his character isn't even really the protagonist. That would be Gabe (Dave Annable), who, until family tragedy sidelined him, was the mastermind of the government's secret "Temple" project: He ran supercomputers that use AI not just to ferret out lies but to read the minds of baddies in the interrogation chair. In a scene that laughably demonstrates the Temple's powers, a single drop of stress-sweat is enough to let Gabe announce: "He's lying — he's visualizing a set of numbers," before reading a bank account number off, easy as pie.

An abandoned prison repurposed for one of these Temples has just gone offline, with its staff not responding to calls from outside, so Snipes' Isaac convinces his old buddy Gabe to help figure out what's up. Their team enters the site, looking for the soldiers meant to staff it, and Act I consists mostly of boring shots of empty hallways, with people opening office doors and saying "Clear." All snark aside, it's surprising how long this goes on.

Then they start finding corpses, and seeing things on security-camera footage that don't make sense. The staff members all died fighting unseen assailants, and when Gabe analyzes color-spectrum data and sees a splotch of pure black (don't ask), he announces that "our enemy ... is in the code."

Gabe may think he's dealing with a runaway AI, but what Armed Response really offers is a Grade-Z haunted house in which soldiers and a Middle East warlord get revisited by old secrets. People start dying, friends turn against each other and the dialogue is almost bad enough to make you keep watching. If there was a shred of life in the movie's performances (Snipes is joined in his phone-it-in appearance by Anne Heche and the obligatory pro wrestler Seth Rollins), or in Stockwell's direction, some in the audience might actually make that rarely true claim, "This is so bad it's good." They'd probably still be wrong.

Production company: WWE Studios
Distributors: Saban Films, Lionsgate
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Anne Heche, Dave Annable, Seth Rollins, Kyle Russell Clements, Morgan Roberts, Eyas Younis, Mo Gallini
Director: John Stockwell
Screenwriter: Matt Savelloni
Producers: Michael J. Luisi, Gene Simmons, Wesley Snipes
Executive producer: Richard Lowell
Director of photography: Matthew Irving
Production designer: Frank Zito
Costume designer: Dana Embree
Editor: Christopher S. Capp
Composer: Elia Cmiral
Casting director: J.C. Cantu

Rated R, 93 minutes