Film Review: Redeemer

A throwback to the low-budget vigilante pictures of yesteryear that offers solid fight sequences, but little else.
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Pity the poor vigilante movie, a once-ubiquitous action-picture subgenre that's been mostly relegated to the sidelines since the rise of superhero cinema and television shows. After all, how can Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey or Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack hope to compete alongside the likes of Batman, the Punisher, Arrow and Daredevil—characters who patrol and protect the mean streets of their respective cities with significantly upgraded weaponry…not to mention spiffy costumes?

No doubt recognizing the way the genre wind is blowing, Chilean filmmaker Ernesto Díaz Espinoza is careful to add some modern-day comic-book flourishes to his otherwise retro vigilante brawler, Redeemer. For example, the film's title character, Pardo (Marko Zaror, Chile's answer to Jet Li)—a lone enforcer with a tragic backstory—has fashioned a modest costume that he dons whenever he prepares to kick ass and take names as his alter ego, the Redeemer.

And "modest" is the operative word here, given that the costume amounts to little more than a hooded sweatshirt. (Hey, it may not be the Dark Knight's cape-and-cowl, but it puts Pardo in the right mindset to take down bad guys.) And since a superhero can't exist without a mirror-image super-villain, Espinoza has gifted the Redeemer with a colorfully named nemesis, the Scorpion (José Luís Mósca). The duo are inextricably linked by a past encounter that cost them each a loved one, and face off again when they separately take on a burgeoning drug empire overseen by visiting gringo Braddock (Noah Segan).

Once those broad outlines of a narrative are established, Espinoza turns the bulk of the movie over to watching Zaror's imposing bulk in action. The advantage of Redeemer's low budget and the titular hero's limited arsenal is that the director is able to funnel all his resources into staging prolonged set-pieces that emphasize hand-to-hand fisticuffs rather than routine gunplay. (That’s also something that distinguishes Netflix's "Daredevil" series from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The much-buzzed-about hallway battle at the end of the second episode trumps many of Age of Ultron's larger-scale action sequences.) Because Mosca is also an experienced fighter who has spent years in the MMA ring, when he and Zaror have their final faceoff, there's no need for either of them to hold back.

But getting to that climactic bout can be tedious, even if Espinoza does his best to keep the proceedings clipping along. At 88 minutes, Redeemer is written and edited to be as lean as possible—any shorter and it would have to dispense with the narrative altogether and a highlights reel of fight sequences. Still, those interstitial scenes only serve to reveal the actors' limitations and the movie's overall lack of fresh ideas.

What Espinoza also forgets is that the vigilante movies that have resonated with the viewing public—be it Death Wish or, more recently, The Equalizer—respond to something larger happening in the culture at the time, be it urban violence (in the case of Death Wish) or the tense relationship between law enforcement and minorities (The Equalizer). While Redeemer indirectly alludes to the drug wars that have been a steady source of conflict in South America, that's treated as mere window dressing. Despite their comic-book trappings, The Dark Knight and "Daredevil" feel more connected to the real world than Espinoza's film. In that sense, they're actually more representative of the appeal of old-school vigilante movies than this direct homage.

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