Success with a movie like Triple Threat isn’t easy but it is simple. You have an assortment of well-known badasses who normally headline their own films sharing the screen together. We want to see them interact with each other and have good fights. That’s basically it. No huge story is required because that would be a distraction from the main event. To that end, Raid-like fight choreography or The Night Comes for Us levels of violence would also take away too much of the spotlight. This isn’t a movie about those things. It just needs to honor its actors, be straightforward and not look like garbage.
Luckily, this is exactly what Triple Threat achieves. More fan-friendly than entry level, Jesse V. Johnson’s latest knows exactly what to focus on. Plot breaks are rare, and when the movie does pause, it tends to include decent flashes of comedy, which is weird considering how unnatural the three main performances are (in an interesting touch, they’re from all over the place, so the only shared language their characters can communicate in is English). Most of this is just straight up action for its own sake, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s exactly what we came for.
Essentially, the film is about a group of villains played by Scott Adkins (thankfully with his natural accent), Michael Jai White (full of hilarious cheese in this one) and Michael Bisping (not leaving much of an impression) who destroy a village - including the wife of Iko Uwais. They also double cross and choose to murder their innocent guides (Tony Jaa and Tiger Chen). Their next plan of action is to assassinate an heiress (Celina Jade) but their shoddy killing of Jaa, Uwais and Chen comes back to haunt them as the three team up to save the heiress and get revenge.
Here’s how it all REALLY breaks down. Scott Adkins has the best lines. Michale Jai White is the meanest. Tony Jaa is the coolest. Iko Uwais is the biggest sweetheart and worst with English dialog. Surprisingly, Tiger Chen gets all the best fight scenes but also the worst hair. Uwais has far and away the best kill. And Michael Bisping… it really seems like someone else should have had Michael Bisping’s slot. My vote goes to Marko Zaror. I guess Michael Bisping owns the best shot of a dude getting hit in the head with a cinder block. There you go.
Not everyone gets to fight everyone, but they manage to make it a pretty close thing. In perfect action fashion, characters tend to pair off in the end, and there’s even a great double team where Jaa and Uwais take on Adkins. The only real head-scratcher action-wise is that Uwais tends to use guns more than his fists and for some reason his character was written as a bit of a wimp. It would be foolish to expect the same levels of showmanship offered by these actors’ solo outings. No one is here to do career-best work. But everyone shows up to do GOOD work and Johnson does a perfect job of capturing it while also staying well out of the way.
For a long time, we’ve said movies like this recapture the kind of action films many of us grew up on in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I no longer think that’s true. In terms of tropes, yes, the films are pretty similar. But the action quality is so much higher than we used to get, even compared to the genre’s heavy hitters. The fact that I got to watch this one in a movie theater only heightens that for me. Triple Threat looks good. It sounds even better. The rarity of seeing this type of action film projected is unfortunate. Triple Threat isn’t exemplary in the sense that you can really talk pals into seeing it because it’s just so special. It’s not typical either, but rather where our expectations of typical should be set.