Film Review: Standoff

Laurence Fishburne’s manically villainous turn can’t salvage this B-grade mano-a-mano thriller.
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The trouble with Standoff isn’t that it operates from an age-old scenario; it’s that it does absolutely nothing novel or interesting with it. A macho two-hander whose knowledge of the world seems to have been gleaned solely from other genre movies, Adam Alleca’s film is the very definition of a direct-to-video-grade effort, buoyed only by the fact that it features two charismatic leads in Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne. Neither actor, alas, is given nearly enough to do to elevate this monotonous tale, which concerns the face-to-face battle between an unnamed assassin (Fishburne) and a war vet named Carter (Jane) at the latter’s middle-of-nowhere homestead.

The reason for these two strangers’ showdown has to do with Bird (Ella Ballentine), a young girl who, while visiting her parents’ graves, happens to witness the killer–who emerges from the nearby forest in a giant duster and a black, full-face ski mask–gunning down a priest and a woman. As explained by the first of many explanatory bits of dialogue, Bird is a timid, grief-stricken girl who hides from the world behind her camera, and that habit gets her into trouble when she snaps a picture of Fishburne sans mask, and he in turn realizes that she has proof of his identity. Just narrowly avoiding instant death, Bird flees to the home of Carter, who’s immediately shot in the foot by Fishburne and, in return, pumps the villain’s stomach full of not-quite-fatal buckshot.

Taking up residence at the top of his barren house’s stairs, Carter vows to protect Bird while Fishburne’s killer alternates between trying to cajole Carter to give him the kid and hurling threats and insults at him. Their quarrelling is rife with unimaginative, over-the-top profanity, especially from Fishburne, who’s given mouthfuls of hateful jibber-jabber meant to turn him into some sort of Samuel L. Jackson-in-a-Quentin-Tarantino-movie psycho, but which is so flat that–despite the actor’s obvious glee at his evil role–it renders him merely a run-of-the-mill bastard.

Fishburne and Jane (boasting perpetually wet locks that dangle in front of his face) sweat and scream and emote with full-bore intensity, yet they’re undercut by plotting that never transcends its clichés. Carter vows to protect Bird in order to make up for the death of his son, over which he feels responsible, and he informs Bird that everyone compensates for misery in their own way (cue the bedraggled Carter swigging from a bottle!). His backstory motivation is the very definition of hackneyed, as is Standoff’s central battle, which is soon complicated by the appearance of a wet-behind-the-ears local cop as well as Carter’s wife, whose late arrival is so obviously preordained from the start that, no matter the filmmaker’s intention, it comes off as the most leaden of surprises.

While the story’s mano-a-mano premise should afford writer-director Alleca with numerous opportunities to stage clever cat-and-mouse brutality, there’s scant actual action to be found in Standoff, too busy is it indulging in scene after scene of tough guys trying to one-up each other with verbal retorts. Inert from the start, and devoid of any twists and turns that might afford its scenery-chomping leads with a single standout moment, it plays like the faintest copy of a copy of countless superior films.

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