With Security, Antonio Banderas announced a bold new reinvention of his career: the DTV action badass. That low budget cross between Home Alone -style hijinks and hardcore violence was one of the better Redbox Specials to come along in some time; a living room shoot 'em up that focused on fun instead of sheer brutality (for the latter, may we suggest Savage Dog?). So, it only feels right to find Banderas headlining the latest from Isaac Florentine (Undisputed III: Redemption, Close Range), who charts a path of bloody revenge for the former Desperado ace. Acts of Vengeance is a rough rumination on grief and healing, packaged inside a picture where Banderas' motor-mouthed lawyer rises from the ashes of his wife and daughter's murders via underground MMA tournaments and a monkish vow of silence. It's jangly, strange, and probably takes itself a bit too seriously, but totally earns its 87 minutes of wandering violence.
Frank Valera (Banderas) is a workaholic attorney who (in somewhat overbearing voice-over) tells us that he used to spend most of his days spitting out thousands of words, but the only three meaningful ones during that time were uttered to his wife (Cristina Serafini) and daughter (Lillian Blankenship). It's a corny set up, for sure, but one that's necessary to spell out all we need to know about this high-end defense counsel. Only when a case keeps him late at the office and he misses his daughter's performance of their favorite song at her talent show, the most special people in his life never make it home that night. Their bodies are located in a back alley drainage ditch and, before long, the case goes cold, leaving Frank a broken, drunk disaster. How can this man go on any longer, knowing he squandered the best relationships in his life (and didn't even show up when they needed him most)?
This being a Florentine joint, Frank's solace is found in a back room octagon he magically stumbles upon after taking roughly seventy shots at a swanky bar. Soon after, he's hollering at crowd members and getting smashed in the face, coming back week in and week out (not even removing his suit shirts, mind you) and letting the animals who call the cage home pound his mug into oblivion. The subtext becomes text (he's letting his body take the same level of punishment as his soul), and it isn't long before Frank's quit his practice and is training at a local dojo. The words of his father-in-law (Robert Forster) are no doubt ringing in his ears every time he strikes the heavy bag: "I never knew what she saw in you." Late one evening, Frank's jumped by a young prostitute's pimps, who toss him through the window of a bookstore, where he discovers a copy of Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" amidst the broken glass. This ancient text becomes the former wordsmith's stoic Bible, as he makes a promise to never speak another word until his family's killers are properly punished by his hand.
If this all sounds preposterous, it's because it totally is. But Banderas brings such a fiery commitment to the role that we buy into Florentine's world of cleanly choreographed battles and the Russian tough guys who engage in them (the B-Movie auteur barely attempts to hide his Bulgarian shooting grounds). We can see each line on the actor's weathered face, and his body just isn't what it used to be. However, Banderas still moves like a cat whenever he's called upon to put a few thugs on their backs, as Florentine's trademark control over his high and wide frame allows us to see every acrobatic impact. While Acts of Vengeance certainly zeroes in on Frank's journey to achieve idiosyncratic redemption, spreading the bursts of savagery out, we're always right there with Frank's story, mostly due to Banderas' stonefaced intensity.
A late in the game introduction of a kindly nurse (Paz Vega) getting shaken down by local goons for ER drugs is a little too convenient, as is a twist involving the city's seemingly sole kindly cop (Karl Urban). Nevertheless, Acts of Vengeance totally lives and dies on Banderas' steely turn, which is a cut above your usual DTV run and gun affair. Should this line of action filmmaking truly be the next phase in the Spanish actor's already legendary career, then fans of that arena should welcome him with open arms. For Banderas approaches a rather simplistic revenge storyline like a classically trained Shakespearean actor, letting us feel the tarnished spirit of this man as he punches and kicks his way back to the light. It also helps that you totally buy Banderas whipping the shit out of droves of evil-doers, as he doles out physical punishment with the same ease as he welcomes it.