"I don't fight people anymore. I fuckin' destroy 'em."
When Scott Adkins’ assassin Mike Fallon – who earned his titular nickname because almost all of his contract kills are staged to look like bad fortune after the fact – delivers these lines in voiceover five minutes into Accident Man (before promptly proving his point on two sexist blokes in an English pub) it feels like a moment of self-actualization for the action star. Adkins has steadily risen to prominence in the VOD world by simply being the best onscreen fighter in modern Western martial arts movies. It also helps that he’s teamed with some of the finer directors in the Redbox-ready business – namely Isaac Florentine (Ninja II, Close Range) and John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) – as they truly appreciate how his body moves as he doles punishment.
Jesse V. Johnson is the latest lo-fi auteur who’s kept his frame wide, high, and steady, while adding a horror film level of gore to last year’s brutal pit fighting period piece, Savage Dog. The former stuntman – who worked with everyone from Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers) to Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) before stepping behind his own camera – appreciates a good stab wound, and in Savage Dog even let Adkins eat a man’s beating heart onscreen. Thank God, Allah, Space Aliens, or whoever else you may pray to that Johnson and Adkins already had multiple projects either set up or shot together. Their collaboration began with a bang, but was rough around the edges, with plenty of room for growth around the initial face-smashing chemistry they generated.
Sadly, Accident Man doesn’t quite live up to the hype of Savage Dog, though certainly for lack of effort. If anything, the action/comedy strains a bit too hard to stretch beyond the usual DTV fisticuff basics, adding a layer of faux Guy Ritchie flair into the proceedings. Where every other movie saw Adkins emulating Cannon Films stars of the past – namely Jean-Claude Van Damme, who Adkins has confessed to loving during more than one interview – this is his Jason Statham movie, trying his hand at being a funny tough guy with a rough working-class English brogue. Trouble is, that only works for Statham because he’s Jason Fucking Statham, and while Adkins may be a better fighter than the former Olympic diving hopeful, he doesn’t possess the same oiled jester screen presence.
Co-written by Adkins - his first script credit - who adapts Pat Mills’ eponymous comic book with partner Stu Small, the fighter is clearly trying to create his own DTV Deadpool. Fallon’s a hired assassin who hangs in a pub (run by Ray Stevenson, no less) that’s only populated by other murderously professional goons, all of who have their own style and corresponding personality. Carnage Cliff (Ross O’Hennessy) sloppily butchers people with an axe, while Poison Pete (Stephen Donald) is a probably-on-the-spectrum kook who (you guessed it) poisons his prey. Mick & Mack (Michael Jai White and Ray Park) are a disaster squad of former soldiers who trash houses when they’re done, positioning the bodies to look like it was a crime of chance: a series of manufactured “wrong place, wrong time” scenarios. Amy Johnston’s Jane The Ripper is basically The Bride from Kill Bill. You get the picture – they’re all action movie archetypes, filling this overly stuffed anti-reality that’s not above stealing a music cue or slick lens choice (look at those lens flares!) from John Wick.
This is going to come off rather harsh, but nobody sits down with a Scott Adkins movie to listen to him talk – and he talks a lot in Accident Man. It’s not that Adkins is a bad actor – in fairness, he’s gotten a lot better, especially in pictures like Boyka: Undisputed IV – he’s just probably never going to rise to a level where you want to hear him deliver pages upon pages of monologue, walking us through things that are even happening onscreen as he speaks. Weirder still, this is one of the few times that Adkins uses his native English accent, yet somehow still sounds like he’s doing an impersonation of a “Cock-nay” tough the whole time. Perhaps this is because Accident Man’s script sets up a movie that could've been made by people who only know English/British people through Danny Boyle’s work - right down to the needle drops (you’ll know it when you hear it) - had the viewer thrown it on not knowing any better.
What’s wise is that Adkins and Johnson go to all this trouble establishing this wacky universe, but then keep the plot that happens inside of it a fairly standard action/revenge yarn, allowing the colorful murder clowns to bounce off one another. Fallon’s old girlfriend (Brooke Johnston) – who left him for another woman, in one of the film's many attempts at anti-PC bro-y humor – is killed during an apparent break in. But after doing a bit of investigation, her hitman ex concludes it was a professional job. Her old partner (Ashley Greene) doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, but Fallon still takes the case, working his way through the assassin food chain to figure out which one of his colleagues may have offed the former love of his life (whom he never quite gets over). This includes shaking down the geek who handles their contracts (David Paymer), and throwing down with the very best his business has to offer. Unfortunately, it also includes rather corny flashbacks, where Mike recounts his own coming of age; a tangent that becomes a mini-movie long enough to make J.K. Simmons in The Accountant blush.
In fairness, the violence – when it does erupt – is some of the best in Adkins’ entire body of work. Fight scenes last forever and are normally no more than three-on-one, allowing the coverage to be clean and crisp. A motorcycle is introduced at one point (whose rider Adkins quickly kicks off). A dojo battle with Michael Jai White and Ray Park becomes rather furious (though never bloody like Savage Dog), as Adkins gets to take on a pair of performers who – while still not quite his match – still have some pretty solid game of their own. An axe brawl with Carnage Cliff will remind UniSol fans of a certain Russian baseball bat maniac. Johnson is an ace at capturing every impact, working with a newer DP – TV documentary regular Duane McClunie – who slides effortlessly into the genre, adding polish to the noticeably low budget production. So, while the breaks between the beatdowns may go on a bit too long, they’re still well worth the wait upon arrival.
On one hand, you want to respect the creative team for trying to stretch themselves. On the other, you wish that they could recognize their limitations. Accident Man is far from a bad film; it’s pretty easy to watch, and certainly fun enough. It’s just also a sad casualty of trying to do “too much”, possibly before either Adkins or Johnson were ready to take the plunge from straight violence into a more juvenilely jokey arena. While definitely still a treat for fans of the martial arts star and his new English partner in crime, Accident Man is also a mild disappointment, mostly because the film seemingly bit off a touch more than it could chew.
Accident Man is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.