Lionsgate // 2010 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 26th, 2010
Who wants to die first?
What a curious movie Wrong Side of Town is. It's straight-to-DVD action film presumably created to appeal to wrestling fans who get excited at the prospect of WWE superstars Batista and Rob Van Dam acting opposite one another, but it barely ever puts the two in a scene together. In fact, Batista (billed here as Dave Bautista) gets very little screen time at all -- this despite the fact that he gets top billing and is the most prominently-featured actor on the DVD cover. His scenes -- both of them -- feel like an afterthought, wedged in alongside the story rather than advancing it. I say "story," of course, as though that matters. I don't think anyone is checking out Wrong Side of Town for the plot. Believe me when I say that's for the best.
The film stars former WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam (surprisingly not bad in his leading-man debut) as Bobby Kalinowsky (take that, "John McClane"). He's a former Navy SEAL-turned-family man who lives in the suburbs with his loving wife and teenage daughter. Bobby and his wife go out for a night on the town with a new neighbor (Edrick Brown, Identity), who out-geeks Urkel for laughs early on before inexplicably turning totally normal. Then, the Mrs. is attacked by psycho club owner Ethan Bordas (Ross Britz, Sinners & Saints). As Bobby fights off the attacker, there's a struggle and Ethan winds up dead. Trouble is, Ethan is the younger brother of Seth (Jerry Katz, Wolvesbayne), crime boss of the entire city, who promptly sends every criminal out gunning after Bobby. He's forced to fight for his life. He's on his own. He's on the WRONG SIDE OF TOWN!
(There's no right side of town, by the way, as apparently Seth has thugs working for him everywhere, but just Town isn't a very good title for an action movie. Unless the hero's name is Bobby Town. That would be OK. But in that case, Wrong Side of Town would still sound cooler, so now we're right back where we started.)
Being on something of an action movie kick of late, I wanted to enjoy Wrong Side of Town more than I did. There's something liberating about the direct-to-DVD format; the stakes are lower, and directors can theoretically get a purer version of their vision onto shelves. In a number of ways, these movies are the new exploitation cinema, and, as such, I'm always looking for that director who's going to sneak some artistry into what's written off as disposable genre junk. Wrong Side of Town director David DeFalco doesn't do any of that. The movie is not the worst I've seen; it's rarely boring, has some good-enough performances and moves along at a fast clip. Unfortunately, the screenplay is still several drafts away from being anything other than awful and DeFalco doesn't quite know how to stage an action scene -- this despite the fact that one of the biggest advantages of casting pro wrestlers in key roles is that they're able to convincingly perform their own fight choreography. There's actually surprisingly little action in the movie, and when it does come it's almost always in short bursts that end before they pick up any steam. The pacing is uneven, the editing is messy and, at times, downright bizarre. It's a sloppy film that tends to undercut its already-small chances of success.
Had the script allowed for more interaction between wrestlers Van Dam and Batista, we might have had something. Neither is going to give Jeff Bridges a run for his money anytime soon, but they have a relaxed chemistry and a presence on screen that should have been capitalized upon more. I'm not suggesting they go out and make a buddy cop movie, but at least a few scenes of them busting heads together might have been nice. That is, after all, the main draw of the film.
Wrong Side of Town comes to DVD courtesy of Lions Gate, The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is totally fine but nothing special; it's a little on the dark side, not helped by the fact that the majority of the movie is shot outdoors at night (or in other dark locations, like nightclubs). The 5.1 audio track is equally serviceable, delivering the dialogue passably (which is actually a bit of a mixed blessing, considering the lines that have been written) but managing to underwhelm during the action sequences. I don't think there's anything about the DVD presentation that's going to detract from anyone's enjoyment of the movie. DeFalco's choices are more likely to take care of that.
As far as extras go, you'll really only get a small collection of interviews with Rob Van Dam (covering what it's like to be on a movie set) and a few of the other stars, a short piece on stunts with Van Dam and another short piece on training for the film. Only the latter extra features David Bautista, which fans ought to be aware of if they go looking for more of him than what's in the actual movie. Some bonus trailers for other Lions Gate titles round out the special features.
There are moments when Wrong Side of Town slips into such overheated, sublime silliness that it manages to be entertaining (my favorite moment might be when the vicious, coldhearted, murdering big crime boss learns that his brother has been killed and shouts "You menace!" at RVD). Those moments are too few and too far between. I would have been willing to accept the movie's lame script and overall stupidity had it delivered more in the action department, but it tends to fall short even in that area. It's certainly not the worst of its kind, but Wrong Side of Town squanders its potential to be something more. Watch an early Steven Segal movie instead.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site