Film Review: In the Blood

Gina Carano's latest star vehicle highlights her strength as a fighter, but her limitations as an actress.

There's probably an early draft of In the Blood sitting on some producer’s desk that's closer in spirit to Frantic, Roman Polanski's 1988 thriller in which an ordinary guy (Harrison Ford) has to navigate the mean streets of Paris to recover his vanished wife. But any chance of the heroine who headlines this gender-swapped (and country-swapped, as a Caribbean isle takes over for the French capital) revision being an Average Jane went out the window the moment Gina Carano landed the role. A former MMA fighter turned aspiring action star, Carano enters every scene like she's entering the Octagon: steely-eyed, determined, and with every one of her (many) muscles tensed for the fight ahead. She may not have a colorful costume, but she's essentially a comic-book superhero, which means that she requires a comic-book origin.

So writers James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin oblige by giving Carano's character a backstory that's part Elektra and part Hit Girl. Raised by a father (Stephen Lang) skilled in self-defense through his involvement in various unsavory businesses, Ava was trained at a young age in how to beat up and/or kill men bigger and supposedly stronger than her. But since Dad's unseemly demise, she's tried to leave that life behind and at last seems on the cusp of making a clean break with the past by getting hitched to lovable thrill-seeker (and ex-junkie) Derek (Cam Gigandet), the son and heir of a distrustful rich a-hole (Treat Williams).

Opting to spend their honeymoon on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, the newlyweds enjoy a full regimen of sun, sand and extreme sports, until the good times come to a screeching halt when they get involved in a nightclub dust-up with some local thugs (including B-movie staple Danny Trejo). Things go from bad to worse the next day when a zipline accident leaves Derek battered and broken. Then, while being rushed to the hospital, he promptly disappears, kidnapped by employees of the island's crime kingpin (Amaury Nolasco). And with the corrupt police force—headed up by Luis Guzmán playing…Luis Guzmán—not providing much in the way of assistance, Ava is forced to put her own particular set of skills to the test in recovering her taken husband.

Speaking of Taken, that blockbuster Liam Neeson franchise is another obvious model for In the Blood, in the way it presents its hero as a relentless, unstoppable, ass-kicking machine, rather than keeping with the post-Die Hard tradition of building an action movie about an out-of-their-depth scrapper who gets by on a little ingenuity and a whole lotta luck. Carano's screen presence is simply too muscular (both in terms of her physique as well as her general "don't eff with me" attitude) for her to believably play a John McClane type, and it's to the movie's credit that it doesn't bother pretending that Ava could be anything less than a one-woman wrecking crew. There's not even a sense that she's been out of fighting shape for a while; when Derek goes missing, she instantly snaps into action mode, snapping plenty of other arms, legs and necks in the process.

If only Carano were halfway credible at anything besides kicking ass! Steven Soderbergh, who lifted her out of the MMA world to anchor 2011's Haywire, at least came up with clever gimmicks to mask her inexperience as a dramatic performer, stripping away much of her dialogue and scrambling the film's chronology so she wouldn't have to play a straightforward character arc. In the Blood director John Stockwell places Carano squarely center-stage and then abandons her there, allowing her to wilt in the spotlight's harsh glare. It's not just her flat line readings that are a problem; she doesn't seem to know what to do with herself when she's not in the midst of a fight, appearing distant and uncomfortable when required to interact with her co-stars and struggling to convincingly portray any recognizable human emotion beyond rage. And since In the Blood, like Taken, is an action movie that depends on the forcefulness of its star to make up for its numerous creative deficiencies—the story is ludicrous, the supporting characters nonentities, and Stockwell's graceless action choreography threatens to make hash of his leading lady's real-world combat expertise—Carano's lack of charisma, of personality, proves fatal to the entire enterprise. Far from confirming Carano as the next great action star, In the Blood shows just how much more she still has to learn.

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