Rating: 3 out of 5
Jean Reno can't seem to keep himself out of trouble, can he?
When most of us were first introduced to him, he was a 'cleaner' who befriended and had a fascination with a pubescent Natalie Portman in Leon.
Then he buddied up with Tom Cruise for spy games in Mission: Impossible, and followed that up as another covert operative alongside Robert De Niro in Ronin.
More recently, he was in Steve Martin's Pink Panther movies; but, the less said about those, the better.
In 22 Bullets, he plays a former mobster named Charly Mattei, who has ostensibly retired and gone legit, as they say. He is portrayed as a caring father, a family man, before one day being gunned down in a brutal gangland hit.
Despite being riddled with metal slugs, bloodied and scarred, he miraculously survives, recovering after the titular 22 bullets are removed from his body.
What does he do with the gift of second chance? He goes on a murderous spree, hunting down the ones who attempted to rub him out.
It may seem to be morally ambiguous, but since his attackers will not rest until he is dead, and have threatened his family in order to get to him, he has no qualms with becoming a one-man killing machine.
Revenge stories like this are easy to understand, and it is easy to see why they get made. The audience wants to see the bad guys suffer, and when you have a leading man like the gangster-chic Reno, you don't need too much reason to cheer him on.
The problem with this film, then, is that it gets kind of monotonous when he starts sneaking up on his would-be assassins – the hunters become the hunted – and offing them with style, inevitability and more than a few harsh words.
(Denzel Washington's Man on Fire suffered from similar, inherent flaws.)
A film like this, technically well-made, with marvellous shoot-outs, top-notch sound and riveting car chases, has little time to ponder the principles of the criminal's life – other than having a character basically say that violence begets violence.
It also goes without saying, particularly for Asian audiences familiar with kungfu or gangster stories, that it's really quite hard to 'retire' from the 'business'.
For all the goodwill that Reno has built up over the years, his performance here isn't all that satisfying – it comes off as a little flat. Apart from an early scene that establishes him as a doting father, we are not permitted to learn much more about his character.
The final confrontation, if one were to nitpick, is rather poor. There is a feeble attempt to preach about lost friendships, betrayal, and the hollow moralizations of Mattei as he is said to have come clean based on his own definition of what 'clean' is.
Taken for what it is, a competent thriller that isn't very insightful, and one that gets repetitive, this is a fairly entertaining genre piece.
A pity, though, that Reno, our favourite Gallic covert professional, has been reduced to a cardboard-thin stock character. Less trouble for the filmmakers, I suppose.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!"
– Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III