Film Review: HeatstrokeA cheeseball B-movie about a woman and a girl combating arms dealers in the African desert that fails to generate suspense, excitement, or even unintentional B-movie laughs.
Opening with a Stephen Dorff college lecture about the majesty of hyenas, Heatstroke—a survivalist thriller based on Hannah Nyala West’s novel Leave No Trace—soon reveals itself to be a dog. Director Evelyn Purcell’s film charts the African expedition of Paul (Dorff) to further study his beloved hyenas. Accompanying him on this trip are his new girlfriend Tally (Svetlana Metxina) and his daughter Jo (Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones”), who’s forced to join her estranged dad after getting caught by her mother with drugs.
Jo is angry with her dad for abandoning her in favor of Tally, whom she resents–a dynamic that’s spelled out in the film’s first five minutes and then beaten to death by one repetitive scene after another during the following half-hour. Not helping matters, Purcell and Anne Brooksbank’s script has its characters speak with an expository bluntness that further contributes to the material’s gracelessness, which is then also exacerbated by clunky direction full of flat close-ups and blandly beautiful panoramas of the African plains.
Once in Africa, Jo acts out, Paul professes his devotion to her, and Tally tries to be understanding about their tense circumstances. That turgid dramatic scenario is thrown for a loop when Paul, in the process of driving discontented Jo to the airport so she can go home, stumbles upon two men trying to steal a dead rhino’s tusk, and one of them murders him and leaves Jo for dead. Luckily, Tally shows up just in time, and she and Jo thus set off on a mission to endure Africa’s dry, dusty desert while also avoiding being captured by these arms-dealing killers. Alas, doing so is complicated by the fact that Heatstroke casts Jo as a moron whose petulance eclipses her common sense, most notably when she attempts to take refuge at a nearby camp where the gunmen’s leader, Mallick (Peter Stormare), is lying in wait.
From there, Purcell’s film subscribes to a standard-issue action template in which Tally–tasked with becoming Jo’s maternal guardian angel–alternates between stealthily avoiding Mallick and his men by running around and hiding behind bushes, and killing them one by one. It’s a setup that the director stages with zero momentum or suspense, and which loses any sense of energy once Dorff’s daddy is dispatched. Left to focus on Metkina, the proceedings quickly go inert, as the actress’ line readings prove wooden and her physical build make her seem better fit for modeling than middle-of-nowhere butt-kicking. That Metkina is then likened by the story to the region’s hyenas–because they’re both tough, smart and fiercely devoted to protecting themselves and their loved ones–simply further drives Heatstroke into cheeseball territory. Alas, it’s the type of B-movie too dull to elicit unintentional laughs, and so incompetent it even manages the not-inconsiderable feat of squandering Peter Stormare in a role that fails to take advantage of the actor’s reliably volatile-wacko charm.
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