THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

Producer: Navid McIlhargey, Anthony Rhulen, Christopher Milburn, Sam Worthington, John Schwartz, Michael Schwartz, Tove Christensen, Michael Wexler, Juan G. Garcia Peredo, James Costas, Paul Rock and Paul Leydon
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writer: Paul Leydon and Michael Ferris
Stars: Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Martin Compston, Amy Landecker and Veronica Echegui
Studio: Saban Films

C-

Jason Statham and Liam Neeson have made hay starring in fast-moving but brainless action fare like “The Transporter” and “Taken,” so why not Sam Worthington? Perhaps because “The Hunter’s Prayer,” the vehicle he’s chosen, not only has a terrible title, but is hampered by start-and-stop execution that depends overmuch on implausible hair-breadth escapes and gets bogged down in sappy back story.

Adapted by John Brancato and Michael Ferris from a novel by Kevin Wignall (and with an astounding total of twenty-three producers listed in the credits), the movie hinges on the decision of nasty British crime mogul Richard Addison (played with aristocratic snootiness by Allen Leech) to deal with Martin Hatto (Eben Young), an American associate who’s stolen millions from him. His intent is first to punish the man by having his daughter Ella (Odeya Rush), a student in a posh Swiss school, killed, and then off Martin himself. But Stephen Lucas (Worthington), the ex-soldier turned assassin whom he’s entrusted with the job of dealing with the girl, balks at carrying it out, because—it’s revealed—he’s wrestling with his abandonment of his own daughter (as well as with drug addiction). So Addison, in a huff, has Metzger (Martin Compston), a more reliable assassin, simply slaughter Hatto and his wife and burn down their California home to make their deaths look like an accident.

Meanwhile Lucas has rescued Ella from another team of Addison’s henchmen and driven her away from danger. Soon Metzger will be on their tail, along with a corrupt FBI agent (Amy Landecker) who’s on Addison’s payroll. The chase goes from country to country, with the pair periodically trapped by their pursuers and just barely evading death while bonding along the way. At one point Lucas brings in an old acquaintance, Dani (Veronica Echegui), for help; she warns Ella against depending overmuch on Lucas, but how far she can be trusted is doubtful.

Everything winds up at Addison’s posh estate, which Lucas invades during a big party. A confrontation—or series of confrontations—result, in which Addison’s bullied son (Dylan Miles-Davis) even becomes involved. Of course, there’s never really any question about how all this is going to turn out, so the level of suspense generated over the course of the journey is pretty much nil.

Nonetheless director Jonathan Mostow shows some of the same dexterity in choreographing action sequences and building tension that he exhibited years ago in films like the road thriller “Breakdown” (1997), the submarine drama “U-571” (2000) and Arnold’s “Terminator 3” (2003). Unfortunately, his efforts are undone by the script’s over-reliance on the hoariest of devices—every time Ella or Lucas seems to be in imminent danger, someone intervenes at the last moment to prevent the kill shot from being fired. When you add that the scenario demands Addison’s hand-picked men to be portrayed as among the world’s worst shots, one’s ability to suspend disbelief for the duration is stretched beyond limit.

Still, you might be able to tolerate all that were it not for the long “personal” interludes that interrupt the action; Lucas’ tortured hand-wringing about his wife and daughter and Ella’s regret over her father’s death reek of a sentimentality that never feels earned. The script reaches a low point in a scene where Ella confronts Addison to exact vengeance. It plays poorly, to say the least.

Part of the problem is that Rush’s performance is barely adequate and Leech’s simply awful. Worthington is somewhat better, though he’s never able to break through the veneer of repressed fatherly feeling to bring Lucas’ supposedly tortured soul into relief. He does have the chops to handle the physical demands of the fights and gun battles, however. The rest of the cast aren’t much more than utilitarian. On the other hand, the movie is technically solid, with Jose David Montero’s lensing capturing some nice location images.

Based on his record, one might pray that next time around, Mostow will have material that will afford a better chance to show off his undeniable skill.