Moroccan producer-turned-writer/director Hicham Hajji makes his feature directorial debut with “Redemption Day” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday, Jan. 8) – an action-thriller that’s somewhat lacking in action and certainly lacking in thrills. It’s attempting to tackle the oil industry’s role in worldwide strife and does so dryly to some extent. It’s not smart enough to be “Syriana” nor is it dumb enough to be “Commando” or “Taken.”
Gary Dourdan of “Alien: Resurrection” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” stars as decorated Marine Brad Paxton. He returns home to his archaeologist wife Kate (Serinda Swan of the ill-fated “Inhumans” and HBO’s “Ballers”), young daughter Clair (Lilia Hajji – I’m guessing she’s Hicham’s little girl?) and boxing trainer father Ed (the always welcome Ernie Hudson) to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Paxton’s also been “gifted” a particularly nasty case of PTSD.
While it’s not a convenient time for her to leave, Kate’s been commissioned to excavate an underground city she’s discovered on the Morocco/Algeria border. Predictably, she and her cohorts are either kidnapped or killed by an upstart Algerian terrorist cell led by Jaafar El Hadi (Samy Naceri from Luc Besson’s “Taxi” flicks and kinda lookin’ like Jeffrey Epstein here). Paxton packs his shit and is on the first plane to Morocco where he teams with secret service agent Younes Laalej (Brice Bexter). By hook or by crook Paxton’s getting his wife back. Also tangled up in this quagmire are Ambassador Williams (Andy Garcia, mostly acting through his cigar), shadowy CIA operative Tom Fitzgerald (Martin Donovan, kinda typecast in this sorta role by this point) and a mysterious oil lobbyist (“Prison Break” ham Robert Knepper adopting white hair, white suit and a Col. Sanders accent).
Dourdan has an interesting presence. I only ever watched the two Quentin Tarantino-directed episodes of “CSI,” so I haven’t seen the bulk of his work. Dourdan’s simultaneously handsome and sort of weird-looking. He looks like a cat who’d play Janet Jackson’s boyfriend in a music video (he did) or sing backup vocals for Macy Gray (he has). He’s arguably a tad old at 54 to be playing this part, but he’s built like a brick shithouse and is convincing enough in action. Swan is a beautiful woman and does well enough servicing what’s ultimately a fairly thankless damsel in distress archetype. Naceri and Bexter are also serviceable in their respective villain and sidekick roles. It’s kind of disappointing that actors of the caliber and notoriety of Hudson, Garcia, Donovan and Knepper (who’s essentially cameoing) are saddled with nothingburger parts.
“Redemption Day” begins and concludes strongly enough, but the middle is made up of tedious driving scenes and obvious exposition dumps. What action there is occasionally impresses (Paxton sniping four terrorists with four rapid, successive headshots; Paxton and Laalej stealthily sneaking around the terrorist base headshotting fools with silenced pistols calls to mind the “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” video games), but there’s also an explosion during the finale that’s laughably fake. The door’s left wide open for a sequel – I’m open to it if the filmmakers embrace the dumb, get a bigger budget and give Knepper plenty of scenery to chew … that would redeem ‘em.