Sony // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 29th, 2008
The hero becomes the hunted!
Remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar? Me neither.
In this tale of brutal revenge and groin-stabbing, Gooding stars as Liam Case, a garbage man who one day finds himself thrust into an extraordinary situation. While on his daily route he witnesses a car accident and is compelled to leap into the flaming wreckage and save a small child. He's immediately crowned a hero, but his joyous feelings soon turn to despair as he downward spirals into a pit of self-loathing over the loss of his wife.
He's once again placed into a high-intensity situation when he finds himself thrust in the middle of a violent bank robbery and takes a handful of bullets in the torso but not before watching an attractive teller get shot in the brain.
Eventually, Liam recuperates and sets out on a mission of vengeance. His goal: to hunt and down and murder each accomplice from the bank robbery in the most physically uncomfortable way possible. Ray Liotta's in this, too.
It's violent and over-the-top, but Hero Wanted is ultimately a slick, hollow affair. It's not an aggressively calamitous experience and I've endured far worse direct-to-DVD wannabe actioners, but, really, aside from the shockingly brutal hand-to-hand combat there's not much else this bad boy has going for it.
Now, ripping on Cuba Gooding Jr. is low-hanging fruit and has almost certainly reached its expiration date, but I'll admit, the guy's not too shabby here. He essentially spends the duration of the film snarling and getting his butt kicked, though still manages a few nice emotional touches as he grapples with his wife's death and the guilt over the teller's death. And the ending is semi-impactful.
Liotta on the other hand is completely wasted. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what his role is here. He's a tough cop and berates his underlings and tells Gooding's character that "he's not a bad guy" and that's...about...it. To be fair it's not as if his presence subtracts much from the storyline, of which there is very little to report upon. Essentially, Liam runs around guns blazing, fists flying, systematically executing the bad guys. Director Brian Smrz (please e-mail the pronunciation of his surname to firstname.lastname@example.org) injects some style in the film by playing around with the time structure. He keeps the narrative bouncing around, using the bank robbery as the fulcrum, flashing back and forward to flesh out the characters before and after the central events. It's a gimmicky approach, but not distracting and when the plot is this thin, you take what you can get.
Enough about that. Let's talk violence. Easily the main selling point of the film, the brutality is jarring. The first sequence, where Liam takes down a guy in a garage and they open up a can of whoop-ass on each other is startling in its rawness. The two beat on each other's faces, strangle each other with telephone cords and, to top it off, puncture a scrotum with a sharp metal object. After that, there's a beat-down in a bathroom, followed by the grand finale, a protracted gunfight in -- you guessed it -- an abandoned warehouse.
The video quality (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) is solid, though soft on the detailing and color levels. Only one extra: a filmmaker's commentary (with special guest Cuba Gooding Jr.). Also, as it is with most current Sony releases, the disc includes a digital copy, which can be transferred to a computer or PSP.
As much as I'm a fan of punches to the face, Liam's murder quest strikes me as an overreaction.
To sum: not much of a plot, a bunch of jackass bad guys and a series of outrageous beatings. Not quite worth a look.
Guilty. Sentence: mandatory anger management counseling.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy