Director: Ari Novak
Cast: Rib Hillis, Rachel Cook, Bobby Maximus, Mara O’hara, Mark Murphy, Xian Mikol, Joe Cebula
Running Time: 94 min.
By Henry McKeand
Kill Shot. Now there’s an unoriginal title. In fact, when I was asked to review Ari Novak’s upcoming action thriller, I had to check to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. The cover, featuring generically attractive actors dressed up like special forces operatives, didn’t do a ton to help distinguish it from the dozens of other similarly titled movies about ex-Navy Seal badasses. Surprisingly, Kill Shot does actually find a way to stand apart from its contemporaries:
It’s uniquely horrible, flying in far below the already-low bar set by recent direct-to-streaming action releases. This is a shame, because it has a solid concept and even some fun narrative ideas in its last act. Sadly, local-car-dealership-level acting and sloppy direction keep it from ever rising above being a Z-Grade time waster.
The first few minutes suggest a more interesting film. After the opening text screen educates you on the amount of money being made in Afghanistan’s drug trade, you’re treated to an opening scene in which a young Afghani girl walks through miles of snow to deliver a briefcase of money to a group of gunmen in an armored truck. The wide lens outdoor photography of her stepping through the wilderness has a scope and ambition rarely seen in these kinds of films. Even if some of the aerial shots of Afghanistan mountains feel like stock footage, there’s a refreshing patience to the way the film captures this girl’s improbable journey.
Next, the gunmen with the briefcase are stopped by a fully veiled woman in the middle of the road who produces a flame thrower and shoots a stream of fire at the grill of their truck. The flames, however, clearly never come close to touching the vehicle, and there’s an extreme awkwardness to the staging that distracts from what is supposed to be an intense scene. Then, instead of reversing or driving around her or running her over, they decide to step out of the truck. At this point, a squad of before-unseen mercenaries ambushes them. What follows is one of the worst on-screen gunfights in recent memory. Despite loud gunfire sounds, nothing comes out of the weapons when the actors pull the trigger. There are no bullets or blanks or digital muzzle flashes to be seen. Even worse, it’s near impossible to tell what they’re shooting at or where they are in relation to one another or why any of it matters.
This opening casts a low-quality pallor over the rest of the movie, which immediately transitions to America and introduces its mountain-climbing, elk-hunting protagonist played by Rib Hillis. He checks all the boxes: broadly handsome and fiercely independent and brave in the face of the danger. The script shows some restraint by giving him a still-breathing wife, but don’t worry: his daughter died in a tragic car accident that caused him and his wife to drift apart, and he even learns that she’s been cheating on him. Nice! That means that he has a tragic backstory and he’s open to a new relationship.
This is where a beautiful young stranger played by model Rachel Cook comes in. After exchanging some charged glances with her at a bar, Hillis’s character learns that he’s been hired to be her hunting guide. Soon enough, they’re exchanging “witty” battle-of-the-sexes banter and getting to know each other. Their day together is interrupted when they find the briefcase of money from the beginning of the film next to a dead man with a submachine gun. It isn’t long before they’re being hunted by evil mercenaries who want the cash.
Outside of a few fun twists in the final twenty minutes, not much else happens plot-wise. The movie turns out to mainly be a vehicle for long, aimless scenes of people with guns walking slowly through the woods (you probably know the type).
To be fair, it’s not easy to do an action movie set in the great outdoors. Sure, a master like John McTiernan can make a bloodbath in the vastness of the jungle feel as intimate and easy-to-follow as a standoff in a small room, but it’s far too easy for most filmmakers to lose track of what’s happening when everything’s set outside. Unfortunately, Ari Novak has a long way to go before becoming John McTiernan, which results in boring “chases” through the woods that are mainly there to pad out the time. When the rare shootout does occur, there is little to no spatial connection between the characters. (“On your right!” shouts Cook. Hillis proceeds to turn to his left and fire at someone off screen).
This would be somewhat forgivable if the central dynamic between Hillis and Cook was appealing, but neither performer has what it takes to sell their developing attraction. Hillis is mostly neutral as a cookie-cutter action hero. Cook, on the other hand, is pretty abysmal, and the movie doesn’t have much for her to do other than improbably be in her underwear for half the runtime.
None of the side characters shine, either. The villains are given zero characterization, and the one bad guy who has extended lines of dialogue feels like he was beamed in from a Tim and Eric skit.
If this sounds to you like a recipe for a delicious hate watch on par with a late-career Steven Seagal flick…then we could probably be friends. The problem is that you’d need a room full of friends funnier than I to make Kill Shot much more than a complete bore, and even then you’d probably regret not putting on something with more value (think C-Span reruns).
Henry McKeand’s Rating: 2/10