Cinema Review: Standoff | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 26th, 2020  

Standoff

Studio: Saban Films
Directed by Adam Alleca

Feb 11, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Most action thrillers have towering body counts. And while Standoff is refreshingly restrained in that regard, its other clichés mount all the higher. One of the movie's early scenes finds war veteran Carter (Thomas Jane) writing a letter by fading lamplight, empty bottles strewn throughout his backwoods home, meeting the current action prerequisite that our hero be a pathetic alcoholic on the cusp of redemption. He gets that chance when a young girl flees into his home after witnessing a hitman slay his target.

That assassin is played by a scenery-chewing Laurence Fishburne, clearly gleeful about playing a badass villain. A tense cat-and-mouse game ensues as the pistol-toting Fishburne, from the first floor, attempts to convince Jane to set his shotgun aside, come down from upstairs and give the young witness up. Little does he know that Jane has only a single shell left in that rifle. The assassin shouts up threats, manipulative barbs and more, giving the plot a minimalistic premise with plenty of promise. 

Unfortunately many of Jane and Fishburne's initially gripping verbal back-and-forths go on for at least a line or two too long, and can quickly turn laughable (like when Jane goofily punctuates one threat by forcefully calling Fishburne "Fella!"). Worse still is the first exchange between Jane and the precocious girl he is protecting (Canadian newbie Ella Ballentine). Their introductory heart to heart has an air of wry whimsy that is a sharp jolt from the heated threats that Jane hollered down the stairs at the prowling Fishburne a moment before. Jane and Ballentine should be panicking, or at least more tense, instead of trading cheeky barbs with arched eyebrows. 

Those whiplash changes in tone make the plot worthy of more than a few eye rolls, but they also give it a ridiculously fun unpredictability. At least writer and director Adam Alleca isn't pretentious or precious about the proceedings—heknows this is the sort of crowdpleasing, low budget action-thriller that was ubiquitous in the ‘90s, and is sorely lacking in this mega-blockbuster era. Alleca shoots the violence sparingly and with tight efficiency. He also gives Jane and Fishburne plenty of time to let their considerable chemistry simmer along with the tension, rather than rely on constant fight scenes, like most contemporary action movies. And while the dialogue falls practically slapstick flat in many of those instances, Jane and Fishburne gamely bandy those lines about. 

Another attribute narrowly elevates Standoff from the sort of bargain bin fare that Nicolas Cage and Wesley Snipes notoriously slum through as of late: Alleca's genre crisscrossing in the opening scenes.  Early on he shoots sprawling fields, letting the camera linger on those cloudy vistas like a horrific abyss. His camera also prowls through the claustrophobic forest as Fishburne chases Ballentine, and through the equally spooky nooks of Jane's country home before he hears them approach. These establishing scenes would easily fit in a slasher flick, giving Standoff a uniquely ever-rising tension from the get-go. They also enhance the refreshingly unpredictable—albeit often unintentionally goofy—ensuing scenes. Together, those strengths make Standoff a shoot 'em up with surprises and style to spare, overshadowing its clunky weaknesses for much—though definitely not all—of its running time.

www.sabanfilms.com/what-we-do/stand-off/

[Standoff premieres exclusively on DirecTV. For more information, click here.]

Author rating: 6/10

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