Producers: Hicham Hajji and David Zilberberg Director: Hicham Hajji Screenplay: Hicham Hajji, Lemore Syvan and Samy Chouia Cast: Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Brice Bexter, Martin Donovan, Ernie Hudson, Samy Naceri, Don Bigg, Lilia Hajji, Robert Knepper and Andy Garcia Distributor: Saban Films
Hicham Hajji, the producer, director and co-writer of “Redemption Day,” also has a cameo in the movie, playing a border guard. Let’s just say he’s no Alfred Hitchcock in any of his capacities.
This is supposed to be a taut action thriller, but it’s flabbily constructed, composed largely of dull exposition, and has no thrills whatever. Essentially it follows the template of a typical Liam Neeson vehicle about a heroic guy doing anything to rescue his wife from criminals or terrorists. But even Liam Neeson couldn’t save this hapless misfire.
The picture begins five years ago in Syria, where Captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) was leading a convoy carrying a humanitarian cargo that came under ISIS attack. Though his actions in response earned him honors, the event had a traumatic effect, and he still suffers from nightmares as a result.
His wife Kate (Serinda Swan) is an archeologist who’s just announced the discovery of an ancient city beneath the Moroccan desert, and has gotten permission to join the team to excavate it. When the team arrives in Morocco, however, they stumble across the border into Algeria and are taken prisoner by a jihadist group led by a rich fanatic named Jaafar el Hadi (Samy Naceri). He threatens his hostages with death and demands a huge ransom.
That sets Brad, the strong, silent, boring type, into motion. Leaving his daughter Clair (Lilia Hajji, presumably a relative of the auteur) and father Ed (Ernie Hudson), a veteran himself, behind, he jets off to North Africa, where he joins with an old comrade-in-arms, the French Moroccan Younes Laalej (Brice Bexter), to plan a rescue mission. Naturally the American ambassador (Andy Garcia) and CIA station chief (Martin Donovan) are of no help; they’re a couple of dodgy bureaucrats who, it’s darkly revealed, are in cahoots with big oil, represented at the very end by a ridiculously stereotypical, white-suited sleazebag named Key (Robert Knepper)—equipped, of course, with a bad Texas drawl.
But Paxton and Laalej go off into the desert anyway, aided by what appears to be a single chubby intel guy back in an office, equipped only with what looks like an ordinary laptop, giving them data. They get info on the terrorists’ location through some easily fooled intermediaries and drive there (in what is only one of many interminable shots of vehicles speeding over dusty roads). Then they take on el Hadi’s army pretty much on their own, until American troops arrive late in the day. Kate’s saved, of course, but there are losses, and the heavy hand of big oil still seems to be pulling the strings.
Just maybe this hokey plot could have been pulled off if done with some imagination and energy, but “Redemption Day”—a pretty meaningless title, since Paxton really has no need of redemption—exhibits neither. It’s a boring excuse for an action movie, weighed down by limp direction, pedestrian dialogue, slack editing (by Karim Ouaret) and flat performances (apart from Garcia and Naceri, who chew up the scenery). There are a few nice exterior locations, highlighted in those extended driving sequences, but overall the production design by Rabia N’Gadi (in which the offices look absurdly small) and cinematography (by Philip Lozano) are drab, and Sacha Chaban’s abrasive score tries vainly to pump up the big finale’s explosions, gun battles and fistfights, the latter very cautiously and ineffectually choreographed.
But by the time they arrive, you might well have bailed out on this tedious farrago of genre clichés.