Triple Threat

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/01/19 16:25:34

"Solid work from the direct-to-video all-stars."
3 stars (Just Average)

A direct-to-video all-star cast doesn't sound like a huge reason to go see a movie, but there's two kinds of direct-to-video people who: Actors who have lost their box-office draw but keep working in whatever job they can get (your Eric Roberts or Bruce Willis types), and action professionals like the stars of this movie. These guys can fight on screen and are hopefully just good enough where the scenes in between are not entirely laughable, or at least the producers can afford enough action to minimize that. "Triple Threat" has the action, and thankfully it's good and frequent enough to do the job.

It takes place in a fictional Southeast Asian country where the news is in English but the locals speak Thai, and a crime-ridden one at that, although Chinese heiress Xiao Xian (Celina Jade) has a plan to change that through investment and philanthropy. The mob in the form of of Siu Feng (Monica Mok Siu-kei) has a plan, starting with sending a team of mercenaries - including Devereaux (Michael Jai White), Joey (Michael Bisping), Mook (JeeJa Yanin), Payu (Tony Jaa), and Long Fei (Tiger Chen Hu) - to bust terrorist Collins (Scott Adkins) out of an MI6 black site, so he can lead a team to take Xian out. Seems like overkill, except that Payu and Jaka thought they were on a humanitarian mission, and at least one staffer, Jaka (Iko Uwais), has survived, and all three will have their paths cross with Xiao as she is under attack.

For a movie that is mostly a chase which stays close enough that people can regularly fight, this is needlessly complicated in some ways, and often just plain silly - is breaking Collins out really necessary, given that he doesn't exactly come off as some sort of superlative mastermind rather than just another merc? Leave him until later and you've got Devereaux as team leader and haven't preemptively made enemies of Payu, Jaka, and Long Fei. Sure, you can't know that in advance, and a martial-arts movie has got to set itself up with reasons for people to switch sides and fight each other, but there's a point where even the folks with no illusions about the action serving the story rather than vice versa might raise an eyebrow about how it doesn't quite fit, even before one starts to note that this place looks pretty nice for a supposedly poor, crime-infested hellhole, although people seem to take folks running through the streets firing automatic weapons in stride.

That's a direct-to-video action movie for you, though, which extends to the performances. Almost everybody involved, from cast to director, is chosen for how well they can handle the action aspects of the job, and there's probably not a lot of time to shoot the scenes in between. It rears its head the most in scenes with the heroes often seem to have no common language other than rudimentary English, and fans who have seen Tony Jaa or Iko Uwais working in their native language will feel like they're kind of at half-strength. The English-speaking villains have it a lot easier - Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, and Michael Bisping seem relaxed, with White especially good at getting everything a decent line has to offer (that he has not become a big-screen star is something of a failure on Hollywood's part). The ladies fare worse - Celina Jade is fluent but not really compelling in either English or Mandarin, and both JeeJa Yanin and Jennifer Yang Qi-jun deserve more than the short shrift they're given.

This makes the movie rough going a lot of the time, but when it comes time to punch, kick, and blow shit up, the folks involved on both sides of the camera know their stuff. Director Jesse V. Johnson has been on this beat a while and is good at giving the audience what they paid for without it seeming mechanical, sending cars crashing through city streets and having bigger-than-life explosions around firefights that are over the top but also easier to follow than those in movies with much bigger budgets and exposure. The finale is worth the price of admission and then some, a three-on-three brawl that shows some crazy skill, enough to put the rest aside. Jaa, Chen, Uwais, Adkins, White, and Bisping are all really good screen fighters, and Tim Man's fight choreography lets them move, spin, throw volleys of blows without a cut and then change partners and do it again. Johnson and editor Jonathan Hall keep it moving and balanced even though there are often three or four simultaneous bits of action to keep track of, and never whiff a climax.

Some people devour movies like "Triple Threat" - the direct-to-video industry has learned how to serve their niche well - and they'll be in heaven with this movie that offers a bit more done a bit better throughout. For the rest of us, well, we might as well get all the good stuff in one place, and this movie does offer plenty of fine action even if most of what's around it is not nearly at the same level.

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