Producers: Mark Donadio, Miriam Marcus, Andrzej Bartkowiak and Jeffrey Bowler Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak Screenplay: Alfred Wayne Carter and Kristin Alexandre Cast: India Eisley, K.J. Apa, Scott Adkins, James Remar, Ella Cornell, Sydney Park, Brooks Borden, John Shea and Frances Fisher Distributor: Shout! Studios
Action is mixed with Romeo-and-Juliet romance in Andrzej Bartkowiak’s oddly lackadaisical thriller about an Albanian terrorist who entangles his do-gooder brother in a plot to set off an explosion in Nantucket on July 4. “Dead Reckoning” aims to be both exciting and touching, but misses both targets by a wide margin.
India Eisley is the lovely maiden Tillie Gardner, who is sent to live with her aunt Jennifer (Ella Cornell, bland) in the high-toned Massachusetts haven after her parents James and Celeste (John Shea and Frances Fisher) are killed in a plane crash. A terrorist named Marco (Scott Adkins) sabotaged their aircraft out of revenge: James, an FBI man, had led an operation in which his father had been terminated.
On Marco’s trail is determined FBI man Richard Cantrell (James Remar), James’s former partner and Tillie’s godfather. While he’s tracking down the terrorist, however, Tillie is falling for Niko (K.J. Apa), an idealistic kid striving to better himself by driving a cab on the island during the summer to save up money for his education. The two meet at a campfire arranged by Niko’s rich buddy Lew (Brooks Borden, irritatingly prissy in his periodic appearances), and he chivalrously drives her home after she gets blotto to ease her emotional pain. Naturally the two are destined for a relationship.
But there’s a major obstacle to their happiness. Marco is Niko’s older brother, and so the boy’s loyalties are torn when he shows up on a huge yacht and expects the kid to help him carry out his dastardly plan of revenge on America by setting off an explosion on it. But while Niko can’t bring himself to act against his brother, he doesn’t want to see Nantucket’s Independence Day celebration blown to smithereens, and lots of people with it. There’s a big pile of cash on the boat that has to be considered, too. And we can’t forget that Tillie’s godfather is about to pounce on his quarry and anyone who might be helping him.
This is obviously a plot riddled with unlikely coincidences. They might have been papered over by fast-moving execution but instead are made ridiculous by the lethargy of Bartkowiak’s approach. The romantic material is not only solemnly paced but hobbled by a lack of chemistry between Eisley and Apa, who are certainly attractive but generate little sexual tension in their scenes together. Nor does either make much of the emotional turmoil the characters are supposed to suffer when the convolutions of the situation are revealed; Eisley opts for a generalized frenzy, while Apa’s subdued manner just makes him seem dim. A tacked-on “happy” ending comes across as particularly dumb.
The thriller elements, meanwhile, are clumsily handled. Adkins just rages maniacally while sporting a bad accent, and Remar, who has done some impressive work in the past, seems tired here. Certainly he’s not convincing in either of the big fight scenes in which Cantrell is involved, the first with a terrorist near the start and the second with Marco on the yacht. Both seem to go on forever, and feel cautiously choreographed rather than viscerally compelling, perhaps in consideration of Remar’s age. Better, though extremely unpleasant, is a confrontation between Marco and Jennifer, which turns bloodily ugly.
In these action scenes the cinematography of Vern Nobles, Jr. looks overtaxed, but elsewhere it’s acceptable enough, though the locations could have been given more elegance. Bridget Keefe’s production design is similarly adequate, but Cody Miller’s editing should have been sharper, and the score by Sean Murray is fairly ordinary for the genre.
“Dead Reckoning” isn’t exactly D.O.A., but it’s close.