American Badger is the kind of film that opens on a title-card stating, in Times New Roman font, the dictionary definition of what a badger is. Before introducing a liquor-slinging mob hitman, who’s conveniently called, you probably guessed, The Badger. It’s almost like those few extra lines of text over the opening are all the character introduction we need. Or at least, all the character introduction we’re going to get.
Suffice to say, Kirk Caouette’s bargain bin action romp steams straight into a no-holds-barred battle royale, tripling the body count of most movies in its opening five minutes, and in fairly impressive fashion too. Writer, director, exec producer and star Caouette is a talented choreographer and stunt performer after all, with credits on all sorts of Hollywood hits from X-Men to Snakes On A Plane. And it shows, not only in the cleanness of the cuts, but in the brutality of the beatdowns too.
At its height, American Badger feels like a budget John Wick, with pockets of gun-fu and video-game style shootouts staged and shot well, and enough in number to please your average straight-to-DVD Segal fan. Everything in-between though, is a hulking mess on a level usually reserved for the Tommy Wiseaus of this world.
Caouette’s insistence on starring here is the first major red flag that we’re in for what is likely a solid gold vanity project. He’s a talented fighter for sure, but even in low-budget indie circles, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a performance this charisma-less and awkward. For the most part, he stares gormlessly past the lens, occasionally wiping his face or turning away so his editor can squeeze in some off-kilter ADR. Sometimes it’s funny just how clueless he seems on camera, but it’s mostly just uncomfortable to watch.
In fact, Caouette’s performance sets the tone for what is ultimately the film’s major downfall. His misunderstood assassin doesn’t actually feel that misunderstood; towards the beginning he soberly mumbles (in more awful, obvious ADR) about everything from his dead wife to a rambling books-worth of empty philosophy, but there’s no real movement on from there. It’s an anti-hero who falls firmly on the wrong side of aggressive loner, well into creepy territory, especially as the film itself starts to burrow its way deeper and deeper into an incredibly dark sex industry subplot.
You see, not only is The Badger a grief-stricken alcoholic with a violent past, he’s also hopelessly pining after troubled call girl Marcella (Andrea Stefancikova), who’s in deep with some dodgy Russian gangsters; well and truly crossing off every square on the bargain basement action movie bingo sheet.
And if the film’s dicey drama wasn’t a total wash before, just you wait until Caouette decides to start throwing in edgy cam girl footage and a seriously nasty gang rape scene, all of which have little to do with the plot and ultimately do nothing but drag the whole affair deeper and deeper into the depths of depravity.
On paper, American Badger should be a solid (if brainless), good-time action flick; the strength of its fight choreography alone is enough to seal the deal. But instead it gets lost in a profoundly uncomfortable hero complex, tied to horrendously dark plot threads that it simply does not have the grace or maturity to deal with in a non-exploitative way,
As far as vanity projects go, Kirk Caouette’s is far from the worst, and might prove entertaining to the right people (action junkies) in the right context (very, very drunk). But it’s much too nasty and poorly strung in its drama to make a stronger impact than any one of its bargain bin brothers and sisters. If you’re looking for cheap and silly action, there are better options for sure.
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