Film Review: Headshot

When his doctor is kidnapped, an amnesiac squares off against a gang of killers and its leader. Derivative plot weighs down a grim martial-arts outing from Indonesia.
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A fresh cast and extremely graphic violence distinguish Headshot, an otherwise run-of-the-mill B-action movie. Fans of the Raid series are the likeliest target for this Indonesian production.

Directors Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, aka the "Mo Brothers," are upfront about their influences. The story, written by Tjahjanto, is a mash-up of the Jason Bourne franchise and basic kung fu premises. The style and tone are reminiscent of The Raid and Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, while individual scenes are lifted from classics like The Terminator.

An amnesiac (Iko Uwais) washes ashore on an Indonesian island. Nursed back to health by Dr. Ailin (Chelsea Islan), he takes the name Ishmael. Meanwhile, a killer known as Lee (Singapore TV star Sunny Pang) breaks out of a maximum-security prison, intent on taking over arms and drug smuggling in the area.

While wiping out a rival gang, Lee hears about Ishmael, and sends his killers out after him. But the amnesiac isn't that easy to capture. Lee then targets Ailin, kidnapping her and young Mina (Avrilla Sigarlaki) from a bus while killing everyone else onboard.

Ailin manages to send a message to Ishmael. He's too late to save her, then gets arrested after killing several of Lee's men. But even jail isn't safe from attack.

The fights continue in forests and dungeons, flashbacks reviving Ishmael's memories as Abdi, one of Lee's best killers. In order to save Ailin, Ishmael will have to kill his former comrades as well as Lee.

If "kill" may seem to be the operative word in Headshot, the movie is also striking for the number of concussions Ishmael/Abdi undergoes, some provoking seizures that bring his past into sharper focus. Blood packs are also a dominant feature. An opponent isn't completely vanquished until red syrup pours from his mouth.

An early fight outside a warehouse, as a bespectacled minion in a ponytail wades into a phalanx of drug dealers with an iron rod, shows off the skill of the production's stuntmen and crew. A handheld camera circles around the fighters, moving in close to capture successive stunts in a single take.

Unfortunately, the action scenes all unfold at the same fever pitch, with no modulation, no escalation as the story progresses. And the gore is excessive. Bullet casings are jammed into eyeballs, machetes slice open mouths, bones burst through skin, chopsticks sever arteries.

Uwais throws himself into his role, and Islan is an appealing partner, at least until she is forced to become a killer herself. But sadism this gratuitous, no matter how artfully depicted, makes Headshot a chore to sit through.

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