After a mostly dreadful year in movies, all we can hope is that things change as we creep slowly into 2021. In a normal year, January would be a dumping ground for films that couldn’t hack it during the summer or fit comfortably into the holiday season mold (or Oscar-bait contenders expanding into additional theaters). Because there were no Oscar films released over the last few months that weren’t directly sent to streaming services, and for the most part, a lot of theaters across the country are still closed, it doesn’t bode well for the offerings that will come our way over the next few weeks. This is backed up by the first major offering of 2021, Redemption Day, which can’t seem to find a voice it cares about.
Gary Dourdan stars as Brad Paxton, a former marine who jumps back into action after his wife, Kate (Serinda Swan), is abducted for accidentally crossing the Albanian border during an archeological dig. Usually this type of rescue mission is full of emotionally-charged sequences as our hero charges behind enemy lines to rescue the love of his life. Not here. We hardly get to know either of these characters as individuals, much less a couple, prior to Kate’s abduction, and because Dourdan delivers his usual sleepy performance, the film severs any authentic connection that would warrant any real emotion to bridge the distance between them.
This underwhelming lack of emotion highlights almost every aspect of this film. Nothing much rises beyond typical, routine elements, from an abundance of stock characters to a rote script and a lack of consistent lighting. As an example, Dourdan is supposedly haunted by an incident he went through while deployed, but which never thoroughly explains the trigger that pushed him to have post-traumatic syndrome nightmares about his time there. Yes, anyone who has gone to war can find it hard to adjust back to normal life, but you’d expect there to be some devastating moment that hammers this idea home within these constant flashbacks. You’d also expect these flashbacks to have a real purpose during the climax, but other than a minor moment of pause, there’s nothing here that would warrant any type of redemption, as assumed by the title.
I don’t know if it was simply the showing that I was in, but the sound was also a bit rough. Everything from the dialogue to the sound effects was about a half-second off the visuals, making the film feel a bit stilted. This is just the tipping point of several low-budget mistakes that took me out of the film. One such moment was when the head of the U.S. Embassy in Morraco (Andy Garcia) discusses the call for ransom with the U.S. President and his staff. Not only is the President’s quarters so bare and unofficial in relation to what a real situation room might look like, but the actor they hired to play the president (Jay Footlik) is so weak, it’s hard to believe he’s the president’s shoe-shine boy much less the commander-in-chief.
There are also several characters that don’t seem to have any significance to anything (including the President himself). This includes Brad and Kate’s daughter (Lilia Hajji), who I’m assuming is the director’s daughter and doesn’t look or sound as if she would be the offspring of either actor, and Brad’s father (Ernie Hudson). There are only a couple of insignificant scenes of the daughter eating breakfast, and after Brad leaves for Morraco, his father comes to babysit his daughter, but then we never hear from either of them again. To explain a bit more, Brad’s father spars with him early on at a training facility, a sequence that never pays off in any significant manner.
The worst of it is what amounts to the initial setup and the end hook, which apparently tries to setup some grand conspiracy, but does so in the most confusing and uninteresting manner possible. At the very beginning, we’re given a bunch of information about the oil industry and that wars are fought over them and that it’s a big money-maker, but never again is this concept even alluded to until the very last five or so minutes of the film when a new character is introduced that has almost nothing to do with the film itself. It’s as if this scene was written by the executives in a last-ditch effort to give reason to what just happened and then build intrigue for a sequel. But because there is never any mention of oil, the fight over oil, or any such interesting information that would make either end of the film mean anything to what actually happens anywhere else, who really cares?
This tacked-on ending also adds an odd twist that sort of negates the character motivation of one of the key players in the search for Kate, an idea that pretty much sums up the movie itself. So many things are brought up (such as the excavation of a city under the desert, a possible pregnancy and Brad getting shot) and then forgotten or cast-off to wander the desert of extinction. I know it’s not, but if Redemption Day is the marker for things to come, I have a bad feeling about 2021.
My Grade: D+
Next week, new movies include The Marksman and Outside the Wire. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.