Like other contemporary Indonesian action films, 'The Big 4' knows how to leverage exaggerated gore for laughs
A Man of Action
Walking with a
travel bag through a crowded airport,
(Juan José Ballesta), a master counterfeiter, is approached by the police. Rather than be captured, he tosses stacks of cash from his luggage into the air. Moving with the high-flying exuberance of "
Catch Me If You Can
," Spanish director Javier Ruiz Caldera's "A Man of Action," a biopic chronicling Urtubia's anarchist schemes to overthrow capitalist authorities in Spain, takes place primarily during the 1960s, and features explosive bank robberies and suspenseful financial espionage. In the film, which is part adventurous lark and part character study, Ballesta controls the frame as the unassuming Urtubia, who began as a simple bricklayer and rose to confabbing with Fidel Castro. His wholesome mien makes him easy to root for as a Robin Hood fighting an elephant of a system by copying checks to exploit the banking infrastructure while evading the police. You can't help being charmed by Urtubia and this lighthearted and endearing film.
Stream it on Netflix.
The Big 4
With "Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash," "Ben & Jody" and more, Indonesia is quickly becoming a hub for ambitious, bighearted action movies. Director Timo Tjahjanto's "The Big 4," which follows a quartet of do-gooder mercenaries, is cut from the same cloth. It begins with the murder of their mentor, affectionately called Pops (Budi Ros), by a former student, Suranto (Marthino Lio), and escalates when Pops' cop daughter, Dina (Putri Marino), searches for the killer. In her hunt, she discovers the identities of Pops' former team - the noble Topan (Abimana Aryasatya), the mercurial explosives expert Alpha (Lutesha), the buffoonish Pelor (Kristo Immanuel) and the spiritual Jenggo (Arie Kriting) - then joins up with them to seek revenge against Suranto. Like other contemporary Indonesian action films, "The Big 4" knows how to leverage exaggerated gore for laughs: Zany firefights, a bloody slow-motion infiltration of an enemy hide-out set to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and a ponytail used as a sharp weapon are just some of the outlandish features of its cartoonish set pieces. Amid all the killing, the characters emphasize family as their uniting bond, in a way that doesn't come off as contrived. And in their loving, if combustible, interpersonal dynamics resides an intoxicating joy.
Stream it on Netflix.
'The Blackout: Invasion Earth'
Set in Moscow in the vaguely distant future, Russian director Egor Baranov's "The Blackout: Invasion Earth" sees two soldiers, Yuriy (Pyotr Fyodorov) and Oleg (Aleksey Chadov), fighting a mysterious alien invasion whose conflicts reveal the inequities of humankind. Initially, however, we're not totally sure who the invaders are: They could be typical extraterrestrials, or they could be humans infected with a virus. Screenwriter Ilya Kulikov's script smartly leaves that open to interpretation, imbuing the action with an enveloping pulse.
But it's the futuristic environment, built upon visually arresting production design, that brings this film to life: The cinematographer's
on violet lighting evokes "Blade Runner 2049" while the costumes recall "Starship Troopers." Its aesthetics combine for a climactic urban sequence featuring a tank driving through a crowd while people launch themselves off buildings as human projectiles.
Stream it on Tubi.
I love a good "retired spy tries to have a wholesome life away from espionage" movie. The ex-secret agent usually finds some mundane job and sticks out like a sore thumb - so much so that you wonder how she ever expected to fit in. In "High Heat," Ana (Olga Kurylenko), a KGB spy turned chef, is trying to build a new life as a restaurant owner with her husband, Ray (Don Johnson). On opening night, however, their past catches up to them when Ray's loan shark, Dom (Diamond Dallas Page), sends goons to burn down the restaurant for its insurance money. To defend her business, Ana calls upon a former friend, Mimi (Kaitlin Doubleday), now a suburban mom with a dweeby gun-toting husband (Chris Diamantopoulos) and creepy twin daughters. From director Zach Golden, "High Heat" pokes fun at the spy genre by throwing bumbling gangsters - such as the hilarious Gary (Jackie Long), a frightened masseur duped into being a hired gun - against Ana and Ray in fight sequences that straddle the line between brutal takedowns and slapstick. That playful dysfunction, in addition to the witty banter between Doubleday and Diamantopoulos, makes this an uncommonly cozy and breezy thriller.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
By this point, you might have noticed a trend in my selections: Except for "The Blackout: Invasion Earth," they have a pleasurable, carefree sensibility. With a cast filled with familiar faces, director Daniel Zirilli's octogenarian revenge tale "Renegades" doesn't break that run. In it, Burton (Nick Moran), a former mercenary struggling with PTSD, finds aid from a family friend and retired soldier, Carver (Lee Majors). Carver takes Burton to meetings where other older special forces retirees, including Harris (Paul Barber), share their stories as therapy. When Carver is murdered by a local human-trafficking gang, these veterans come together to exact revenge for their fallen comrade. While the log line to "Renegades" might sound heavy, a lightness is evinced from this experienced ensemble's chemistry and the tall task that awaits them: In one scene, they must defend themselves with a hodgepodge of weapons - garden shears, a couple of grenades, a crossbow. The appearances of Danny Trejo and the late Tommy Lister as lovable informants only further instills "Renegades" - like "The Expendables" - with a welcome measure of nostalgia.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.