Review: “The Raid: Redemption”

A scene from Gareth Evans' "The Raid: Redemption," here reviewed by film critic James Frazier.

With an American remake for “The Raid: Redemption” already slated, I have the perfect man in mind for the lead role: Jason Statham. Really, it can only be him, because this hyper-violent Indonesian actioneer, hailed as the second coming of “Hard Boiled” by its supporters, in fact plays much more like anything from Statham’s oeuvre than it does an actual classic blood-pumper like the best works of Asian filmmakers such as John Woo or Jackie Chan.

This makes a certain sense, because director Gareth Evans hails not from Asia, but Wales, and this film’s talky, cliché-heavy cool down sequences reflect that. Which isn’t to say that the violence itself, 90 percent kick fu and 10 percent bang bang, wants for able direction. Evans captures the bloodletting in all its face-smashing, throat-slitting glory, courteously shot with the aid of a Steadicam (how quaint) so that we might understand what’s going on.

Here’s the problem. With mind-blowing action scenes like the ones in John Woo’s “Hard Boiled,” plot significance matters somewhat less when one can finish a film and marvel at the spectacle. A film like “The Raid: Redemption” has plenty of perfectly good but not revelatory sequences, but when the credits roll we mostly think about the plot. So what’s to consider when the lights come on as the credits roll and we’ve just seen something with nothing resembling interesting characters or a meaningful plot?

Alas, greatness was not to be for this film, which stars Iko Uwais (the only actor with an English Wikipedia entry) as Rama, a Jakarta SWAT team member caught up in a mission to take down Tama, a brutal crime lord. Just as we know Rama is a good man because he says a loving goodbye to his pregnant wife, we know Tama is evil because we first see him executing a bunch of men in his office. Why he’s executing them might really help us understand his evil, but what writer has time to think of context when trying to imagine a hundred different ways to describe a martial arts battle on the page?

The SWAT team storms into their battleground, a decrepit tenement building housing an endless supply of violent criminals, as well as exactly one kind man with an ill wife. The team quickly finds itself surrounded, its operators gunned down in droves, leaving a couple of scattered pockets left for the survivors to fight their way out.

The first 15 minutes are a slow burn, though the action maintains itself pretty well once shots are fired. Every close encounter constitutes a well-staged demonstration of the stage-fighting prowess of the Indonesian stuntman, though one begins to wonder how many kicks to the face a man can take before he sustains a serious injury. Brutality and excitement too often gives way to boredom, a problem here since this 101 minute film features a story that could be summarized well on a postage stamp. Hopefully those behind the American remake will notice that sometimes less bone-breaking is more.