J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Armed Response: Wesley Snipes and Anne Heche Fight an A.I. Program

It is probably always a bad idea to give artificial intelligence programs nicknames with religious connotations. This immersive biometric truth-seeking “lie-detector” AI facility is often referred to as a “Temple.” Wesley Snipes and his team of commandos might just get some religion when they are trapped inside it in John Stockwell’s Armed Response (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Gabe Arcona designed the Temple systems (too well), but he has been on a boozy extended leave after the horrible death of his daughter. He is not over it, but team leader Isaac needs to pull him back in anyway. A team guarding a Temple has gone dark, so Arcona will have to figure out what happened. Of course, they find the entire detachment has been murdered, under baffling circumstances.

The only survivor is a known terrorist discovered in the isolation chamber, but he is just as clueless as they are. Given he is driven more by opportunism than religion, freelance warlord might be a more apt description, but terrorism is the crime he is wanted for. Yet, for some reason, the Temple interfered with the TSA facial recognition programs, paving his way to the secret installation.

Before too long, strange goings-on start to rattle Isaac and his team. Arcona also begins to suspect something not so on the up-and-up transpired with the squad during his absence. His ill-concealed suspicions cause friction, particularly with the knuckle-dragging Brett, played by professional wrestler Seth Rollins, which gives you an idea of his persona.

John Stockwell is a slickly competent genre director who has helmed legitimately entertaining but not exactly prestigious films like Kid Cannabis, In the Blood, and the body-slamming reboot, Kickboxer: Vengeance. He most likely brought the film in on-time and under-budget, but even he has trouble balancing the films guns-and-brawn action with its uncanny elements, especially as the latter become increasingly illogical and nonsensical.

It is a good thing Snipes is on the one-sheet or else we might forget he is in this movie. Apparently, he is the Picard of swaggering, testosterone-charged commandos instead of a Kirk. For what it’s worth, Dave Annable is surprisingly grounded and convincing as the grief-stricken Arcona. That really is Anne Heche portraying Riley, the sensitive commando, but she plays it straight and fully committed. Snipes is in there someplace, while Rollins thugs it up, to the hilt.

Throughout the first two acts, Response is rather entertaining, in a meathead kind of way. Unfortunately, the big secret Isaac and company are hiding casts our courageous intelligence officers and military service personnel in a highly unflattering light, which is a disappointment, especially considering it was co-produced buy WWE Studios and Gene Simmons’ shingle. You would think if anyone would be sympathetic to the service and sacrifice of the CIA and U.S. military, it would be pro wrestling and the Israeli-American co-leader of KISS. Alas, the resulting film is no Kickboxer: Vengeance. Ultimately quite disappointing, Armed Response opens today (8/4) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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