The Enforcer Review: Hitman becomes the hero in this routine crime thriller

“Tough Guy with Heart of Gold” is the cliché that lies at the heart of “The Enforcer,” and not much comes up to refresh or complicate that hoary hook. This criminal underworld thriller capitalizes on Antonio Banderas’ star charisma as a veteran mafia boss who turns against his own organization to save an imperiled teenager. Richard Hughes’ directorial debut also takes things to the extreme with a slick and stylish presentation. But the results remain too tied to the slick, elementary script of original “Point Break” writer W. Peter Iliff to rise above the level of disposable genre fodder.

Cuda (Banderas) has just been released from prison after dutifully taking the heat for acts he performed in the service of Miami syndicate boss Estelle (Kate Bosworth). He hopes to re-establish relations with his 15-year-old daughter, but she is suspicious after his long absence and his ex-wife is downright hostile. Perhaps as an unfortunate result, he takes a paternal interest in Billie (Zolee Griggs), another 15-year-old runaway in a foster home. He keeps her from getting in trouble for shoplifting and secures a motel room so she’s off the street too aware are unsafe. But Billie is soon abducted from this short-term haven, presumably by sex traffickers, and it doesn’t take Cuda long to discover that the perpetrators are very likely linked to his own employer.

This is the kind of movie that condemns the exploitation of the innocent and still gets us a lot of glaring eyes at scantily clad babes in strip clubs, kinky sex dungeons, and so on. More fundamentally, the issue we have to swallow is that Cuda – aka “The Barracuda” – is a well-known, savage enforcer, here duely wreaking havoc on numerous villains, but now somehow feeling compelled to risk it all for one wide-eyed youth. Hasn’t it occurred to him before that Estelle’s businesses are run on the fuel of such victimization? It’s kind of beyond the scope of the script to acknowledge a contradiction or development in his behavior. He’s just a good villain, that’s all.

Though it stings a bit to see him wasted so soon after extraordinary, wide-ranging twists and turns in films like Official Competition and Pain and Glory, Banderas brings dignity and seriousness to a role that could easily have been lent wooden machismo attitudes . If he can’t improve the material, at least his presence helps mitigate its banality. Saddled with some of the worst dialogue, Bosworth infuses her villainy with a honeyed duplicity that’s a touch down to Estelle’s florid opening scene. Adorned in a black vampire wig, this character offers disappointingly few options for an accomplished performer who just shrugged off countless layers of ambiguity in “House of Darkness” and “The Immaculate Room.”

A third-party lead of sorts is Mojean Aria as a rootless young street fighter who becomes Cuda’s professional protégé. The fact that this character is named Stray shows you how much thought went into the writing, a lack this talented Aussie actor doesn’t have much to fill. Supporting portions are competently staffed, with some inconsistent efforts drawn from staff from the worlds of modeling, hip-hop, “internet stars,” and so on.

“The Enforcer” gets by with neon-noir style for about the first hour, DP Callan Green’s widescreens and other design contributions go for “hot” colors to appealingly convey a predominantly nocturnal Miami vibe. (Their success is underscored by the viewer’s surprise when the credits reveal that this film was actually shot in Thessaloniki, Greece.) Bodies heave in the 20-minute climax, which shows Hughes has a decent sense of direction of action, although some events really tax the credulity. Editors Damian Gomez and Mattias Morheden’s smooth pace makes for easy, if not particularly tense or exciting, viewing.

But the tragic dimension the film aims for – unsupported by its opening with a big spoiler of things to come – can’t be realized with so little depth to draw on. She reaches for the grandiose and never grasps anything beyond the general.

Screen Media is showing “The Enforcer” (not to be confused with several others with the same title, notably Clint Eastwood’s 1976 Dirty Harry entry) on 10 US screens on September 23 concurrent with the VOD release. The Enforcer Review: Hitman becomes the hero in this routine crime thriller

Charles Jones

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