'Heatstroke': Film Review

Heatstroke Film Still - H 2014

Heatstroke Film Still - H 2014

This Africa-set thriller won't exactly erase memories of "King Solomon's Mines."

A woman and teenage girl struggle to survive in the African desert while being pursued by murderous poachers in Evelyn Purcell's action-adventure film.

Stephen Dorff is top-billed in the adventure thriller Heatstroke, but — spoiler alert — he doesn't stick around very long. Playing a divorced dad who, while accompanied by his girlfriend and teenage daughter on a research trip to Africa, runs afoul of dangerous poachers, the actor is dispatched fairly quickly, leaving the heavy action movie lifting to the two femmes. That's the most noteworthy aspect of writer-director Evelyn Purcell's otherwise forgettable B movie.

Hyena expert Paul (Dorff) is reluctantly forced to take his 13-year-old daughter, Josie (Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones), along for some parent-child bonding after she's caught drinking and drugging. The surly teen, resentful of dad's beautiful new Russian girlfriend, Tally (Svetlana Metkina), has no desire to tag along, ignoring the beautiful landscapes in favor of endlessly playing with her iPad.

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After about a half-hour of strained interpersonal dynamics among the three, Paul is suddenly killed when he and Josie happen upon a pair of rhino poachers. She manages to escape and make her way back to where Tally is waiting. But when the pair begins trekking through the desert, they happen upon the poachers' base camp, with the young girl taken prisoner by the gang led by archvillain Mallick (veteran screen heavy Peter Stormare).

After being daringly rescued by the ever resourceful Tally, the two attempt to escape through the desert on foot while being tracked down by the bad guys. Along the way they run into menacing obstacles including snakes, scorpions, a fierce windstorm, and those fiendishly laughing hyenas, with Josie not surprisingly beginning to warm up to her fierce protector.

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Purcell, making her first feature since the 1986 romantic drama Nobody's Fool starring Rosanna Arquette, doesn't display much of a flair for action movie dynamics in this sluggish, formulaic effort that fails to conjure up the necessary suspense. Other than depicting some nifty survival techniques and effectively exploiting the scary aspects of hyenas, a predatory animal not exactly overexposed in films of this sort, it offers little in the way of originality save for the fact that its central characters are female.

Dorff makes a strong impression as the beleaguered dad eager to reconnect with his daughter, making his early departure all the more unfortunate. But while Metkina excellently handles her role's intense physical demands, she's less effective when it comes to actual emoting. Williams is hamstrung by the fact that her adolescent character is both clueless and endlessly annoying, and Stormare doesn't manage to make his bland villain compelling. The film does at least visually benefit from its exotic locations in South Africa's Karoo desert.

Production: Bold Films, Film Afrika Worldwide

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Svetlana Metkina, Maisie Williams, Peter Stormare

Director/screenwriter: Evelyn Purcell

Producer: David Lancaster

Director of photography: Ben Nott

Editor: Ronelle Loots

Production designer: Emilia Weavind

Costume designer: Danielle Knox

No rating, 93 min.