'Falcon Rising': Film Review

Courtesy of Favela Production
This may not be the vehicle, but White seems destined for higher-profile cinematic ass-kicking

Michael Jai White plays a former Marine turned vigilante in this would-be action movie franchise

Michael Jai White (Spawn, The Dark Knight) makes another bid for action movie stardom with this film so determined to spawn a franchise that its ending sets up a sequel, with distributor Freestyle Releasing already promising two more installments. Set in the Brazilian slums that inspired its original title Favela, Falcon Rising is a by-the-numbers thriller that mainly serves as a showcase for its star’s considerable fighting abilities, showcased in an endless number of kick-ass set pieces.

White’s character, John “Falcon” Chapman, is the latest in a long line of emotionally scarred action heroes, in this case an ex-Marine suffering from frequent PTSD flashbacks who in the film’s opening minutes plays a game of Russian Roulette (with bullets soaked in a shot glass filled with whiskey, no less). Happening on a robbery in a liquor store, as is the all too frequent occurrence in these sorts of vehicles, he taunts one of the thugs by grabbing his shotgun and putting it in his mouth before quickly dispatching him.  

When his sister Cindy (Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter, here not given any opportunity to show off her own pugilistic skills) is brutally beaten while working as a social worker in the favelas of Brazil, our hero rushes to Rio de Janeiro—cue the obligatory aerial shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue—to track down the bad guys who did it.

Aided by local street cop Katarina (Millie Ruperto) and a former military buddy, Manny, (Neal McDonough) now working for the State Department, Chapman quickly cuts a wide swath through a variety of hoodlums, crooked cops and even the Japanese Yakuza, uncovering a sex-trafficking ring in the process and occasionally resorting to shooting down his opponents as if he was playing a violent video game.

But the rudimentary plot is merely an excuse for the incredibly buffed and muscled White to display the impressive fighting prowess that has netted him 26 martial arts titles. Although he indulges in the typical frenetic cutting endemic to current action movies, director Ernie Barbarash films the fight scenes cleanly enough to maintain physical coherence, showcasing his star’s dazzling physical movements with the proper slavish devotion.

Largely devoid of wit, Y.T. Parazi’s screenplay gifts the deadpan McDonough with the best lines, such as when, upon being reunited with Chapman, Manny ironically observes, “I see you’ve stopped working out.” Among the supporting players, Japanese star Masashi Odate (The Last Samurai) makes a strong impression as the sort of villain who tests the sharpness of his sword by slicing open the stomach of his nearest underling.

Production: Moonstone Entertainment

Cast: Michael Jai White, Laila Ali, Neal McDonough, Millie Ruperto, Masashi Odate

Director: Ernie Barbarash

Screenwriter: Y.T. Parazi

Producers: Ernst Etchie Stroh, Shahar Stroh

Director of photography: Yaron Levy

Production designer: Monica Monserrate

Editor: Peter Devaney Flanagan

Composer: Neal Acree

Rated R, 103 min.