2018, NR, 101 min. Directed by Tom Oesch. Starring Tom Everett Scott, James Jurdi, Angélica Celaya, Denis O'Hare, Michael O'Neill.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Sept. 14, 2018
If recent headlines have soured you on watching a Shane Black movie this weekend, then I’ve got … well, maybe not good news, but news nonetheless. Danger One, an action-comedy from Steffen Schlachtenhaufen (writer of pitch-black comedy Would You Rather), hits theatres this weekend, and it is every bit the Black imitation that the trailer suggests, only with a less talented cast, worse writing, and the strangest ADR choices you’ll find at the theatre this year.
Despite his wife’s protestations, Eric (Jurdi) continues to waste his evenings working as an EMT for his best friend Dean’s (Scott) ambulance company. Both men are barely holding things together financially; Eric has to beg for additional shifts to help support his family, while Dean has sunk his life’s savings into a dying company. So when the two men respond to a car accident and find $1 million hidden in the victim’s jacket, they decide to keep the money and deal with the consequences, consequences that include corrupt ICE agents, freelance gangsters, and one volunteer firefighter with an anger problem.
One of the things that makes Black’s action-comedies so unique is how deathly serious things get right before the end. Characters get wounded, desperation sets in, and once-glib films like The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang turn bleak right in their biggest moments. This is a formula that Danger One tries to follow. Things start off light, then comes the greed and betrayals. It almost works for one unexpected reason: We really, really don’t care what happens to any of these characters. It may be fun to watch a veteran actor like Denis O’Hare cut loose a little – he’s a bagman who loves classical music, which is what passes for depth in this film – but none of the characters as written are more than the sum of their bad decisions. A good death is all they have to offer.
And without endearing characters to sell this mixture of comedy and dread, Danger One quickly succumbs to its low-budget annoyances. Much of the film’s dialogue seems to have been added in postproduction, leading to tons of awkward jokes by offscreen characters and noticeable synchronization issues. A smarter script might’ve allowed these missteps to be baked into the film’s appeal; instead, the film serves as a welcome reminder that action-comedy is rarely as easy as the best make it look.