Producers: Sylvester Stallone and Braden Aftergood Director: Julius Avery Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Javon “Wanna” Walton, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco, Moisés Arias, Martin Starr, Sophia Tatum, Jared Odrick, Abraham Clinkscales, Henry G. Sanders and Shameik Moore Distributor: Prime Video
There’s a 2018 movie called “Bad Samaritan,” so that title was already taken. The film wasn’t particularly good, but it was better than this one, which perhaps should be retitled “Worse Samaritan.”
Appropriately for a picture based on a graphic novel (a 2014 Mythos Comics issue by Bragi F. Schut, who also did the screenplay), it starts with a comic-book-style animated sequence in which Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton), a kid living with his frazzled single mom Tiffany (Dascha Polanco) in one of those dystopian cities so familiar in pictures nowadays, recites the tale of his idol, super hero Samaritan, who supposedly fought his evil brother Nemesis in a final battle in which both of them perished.
But Sam believes that Samaritan is still alive, and repeatedly badgers writer Albert Casier (Martin Starr), another of the Samaritan faithful, with reports that he’s found him, though none has panned out.
Until, that is, he encounters Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone), a grizzled guy who lives in the apartment above and rescues him from a beating by local punk Reza (Moisés Arias) and his minions. When Joe survives being run over by a car driven by Reza’s older confederate Farshad (Jared Odrick), Sam is certain he’s found the real Samaritan, and though the gruff guy protests the kid’s wrong, they become friends.
Reza and Farshad are both in the crew of nasty crime boss Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), who idolizes Nemesis as much as Sam does Samaritan and yearns to follow in his malicious footsteps. Cyrus acquires a powerful weapon in the hammer of Thor—sorry, Nemesis—from some sort of storage room, which he then wields to initiate riots and destruction. And when he comes to believe that Joe is indeed Samaritan, he kidnaps Sam to serve as bait in luring Smith to a final confrontation marked by lots of fights, gunfire, explosions—as well as a revelation that thinks it’s deep as well surprising, when in reality it’s neither.
Stallone growls and grumbles through the proceedings, rousing himself to favor young Walton with a few smiles and to pose for close-ups in the action sequences before the stunt team rushes in to double him in the demanding moments The youngster is okay without being especially charismatic, while Asbæk makes a smirking but oddly pallid villain. No one else in the supporting cast leaves much of a positive impression.
Visually the picture looks pretty dreadful. As it’s set in a ravaged city, one must acknowledge that the grim production design by Christopher Glass and Greg Berry fits the bill, as do Kelli Jones’s raggedy costumes. The gloominess is further accentuated by David Ungaro’s dark, dank cinematography. The direction by Julius Avery and editing by Pete Beaudreau and Matt Evans are pretty perfunctory for this sort of thing, but the visual effects team does a reasonably good job with all the incendiary stuff, and composers Jed Kurzelk and Kevin Kiner deliver the prescribed aural bombast to accompany it.
The movie you might be most reminded of while watching this one is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Action Hero,” from 1993. It was a notorious bomb, and if “Samaritan” were released to theatres, it would be too. But it might justify its cost on a streaming service, and leaves room for a sequel or two if it attracts enough views.
From the standpoint of entertainment value, however, this is one “Samaritan” that needs help itself. Perhaps the saddest moment comes when it tries to create the sort of catchphrase that becomes part of cultural memory—you know, ”I’ll be back” or “Make my day.” Here, Joe stuffs an explosive on Farshad’s chest during their final fight and walks away, saying “Have a blast.” Unfortunately, the movie certainly doesn’t prove one; it’s just a damp squib.