Down and Dangerous: Film Review

Crisp visuals and a pulsing soundtrack aren't enough to compensate for the predictable narrative elements of this convoluted neo-noir.

A principled drug smuggler becomes embroiled in a dangerous scheme in this low-budget crime drama.

The press notes for the crime thriller Down and Dangerous lists all of the 387 backers who collectively funded the film’s reported $38,051 budget on Kickstarter. Whether these donors who contributed an average amount of $98 got their money’s worth is debatable. But director/screenwriter Zak Forsman certainly used the money well, crafting a crisply shot and edited feature that belies its humble origins.

If I emphasize the mathematics involved, it’s because they’re more interesting than the finished product, which rehashes familiar genre tropes and stylistic conventions — there are more than a few echoes of such similarly themed movies as Heat and Drive — to ultimately plodding effect.

John T. Woods plays the central role of John Boxer, a drug smuggler notable for his clever techniques — an early sequence depicts him roping in two unsuspecting young women as mules under the guise of offering them a corporate-sponsored free Mexican vacation — and his highly principled approach to his profession, which includes not carrying a gun and rejecting the advances of one of the women he’s hoodwinked. Indeed he’s so good at what he does that he’s offered a job at the DEA by an admiring agent who’s been unsuccessfully trying to nab him.

His well-ordered criminal career is put into jeopardy when he finds himself under pressure from a far less scrupulous drug lord (Ernest Curcio) and his murderous, crooked cop henchman (Ross Marquand) to design a foolproof plan for smuggling a huge stash of cocaine across the Mexican border. Assisting him in his complex machinations to rid himself of their hold on him is the drug lord’s sexy moll (Paulie Rojas) with whom Boxer has a past. He’s also given some sage advice from a former mentor (Judd Nelson, in an effective cameo) whose wisdom apparently didn’t prevent him from winding up in prison.

The convoluted, cliché-ridden storyline, apparently inspired by the director’s father’s real-life experiences in the drug trade, is the least interesting element, while the brief, perfunctory action sequences no doubt reflect the low budget. But the film certainly looks and sounds good, with Addison Brock III’s sharp lensing and Deklun’s synthesizer-heavy musical score giving the proceedings a decidedly ‘80s vibe that is further reinforced by the profusion of male facial hair on display.

Woods delivers a nicely understated, appealing performance as the drug smuggler you’re expected to root for, while Curcio and Marquand tear into their villainous roles with entertaining gusto. Rojas never manages to make her character’s tough resourcefulness fully convincing, but her gorgeousness certainly makes the romantic triangle driving the plot understandable.

Opens: Friday, Feb. 14 (Artis Entertainment)

Production: The Sabi Company

Cast: John T. Woods, Paulie Rojas, Ross Marquand, Judd Nelson, Ernie Curcio, Dusty Sorg, Luis Robledo

Director/screenwriter: Zak Forsman

Producer: Kevin K. Shah

Executive producers: Mike Altmann, Austin Lynn Austin, John E. Clark, Zak Forsman, Barry Green, Kevin K. Shah, John T. Woods

Director of photography: Addison Brock III

Editor: Jamie Cobb

Composer: Deklun

Not rated, 95 min.