(Original Publication Date: March 30th, 2018) By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: THE DEBT COLLECTOR
STARRING: Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor, Vladimir Kulich, Michael Pare and Tony Todd
DIRECTED BY: Jesse V. Johnson
Official Synopsis: French is running a martial arts gym, training promising new fighters — but it hasn’t exactly been paying the bills. To make ends meet, he begins working for the notorious (but elusive) Tommy, servicing various criminal outfits throughout Southern California. Working by a number scale, with #10 being a threat and a #1 being a full-on trip to the hospital, French and his partner Sue are in charge of chasing down any kind of criminal or low-life who owes money to the organization. Beating, fighting, chasing, breaking bones and sliding through traffic from one job to another it’s always something new. But when French has to track down an Irish barkeep with a secret, he encounters someone worth saving and will have to question himself and maybe do the right thing… for once.
THE REVIEW: When Jesse V. Johnson helmed the 2005 action film Pit Fighter, he cast up and coming martial artist and actor Scott Adkins in a small role. Even though that film didn’t require Adkins to use any of his skills he had already showcased in previous films like Special Forces, it set forth in motion a working relationship between two men who wanted the same thing and that thing was to make quality, independent action films that not only delivered the adrenaline rush but also told compelling stories involving characters you became vested in. Both Adkins and Johnson have cut their teeth in an industry that has chewed up and spit out many who came before. Fast forward 13 years later and Adkins and Johnson have now become the new go to team in terms of action films with a difference. Not counting Pit Fighter, this is the two men’s third collaboration in less than two years that began with last year’s Savage Dog and continued with Accident Man earlier this year. Both previous films cemented the fact that as long as these two gentleman work together than we are guaranteed high quality, kick-ass films that will talk to you and leave you wanting more.
Enter The Debt Collector. Where Accident Man was a fun and campy action film from a comic book, this new film is the total opposite in that it is grounded in a very harsh reality where things don’t always work out the way you want them to. There isn’t going to be a rainbow at the end of the tunnel and sometimes life is the cruelest mistress of all. Adkins stars as French who is a former British soldier now living in L.A. where he runs an MMA school that is barely staying afloat. Scratch that, it is pretty much sinking. We get that impression at the very beginning when rivals from a big chain of schools led by David Willaim No (Blindsided: The Game) comes knocking on his door and gives him an ultimatum. Sell his business or face the consequences. Of course, French politely tells them to leave and what ensues is a literal bone breaking fight where all involved demonstrate their skills in a barrage of fist and feet. French comes out on top but that doesn’t solve the problem of how to help his business.
Looking for money, French pleads with Mad Alex (played by Michael Pare) to get him in with local loan shark Tommy (Vladimir Kulich of Savage Dog). Upon meeting with Tommy, French is awarded a job where he must collect debts owed to Tommy. French doesn’t realise it however but he is about to get in even more over his head. Enter Sue, played by Louis Mandylor. Sue, a one time B movie action star, has churned out work for Tommy for a long time and has since become jaded to his life which he drowns out with alcohol. Sue sees French as someone who can take the shoulder of punishment that is a constant reminder of why you don’t want to do this job. It just plain sucks.
The Debt Collector takes off when our two hapless protagonists are introduced to one another and the film shows its true colors of being a buddy picture with an edge. A very sharp edge. French and Sue go on their merry way where they try to collect debts from various lowlifes who are a stain on the face of society. We are treated to altercation after altercation where French is subjected to fisticuffs galore as well as run ins with bullets and cars. To say that it is a bad first day, would be a massive understatement. It’s funny, because Tommy advised him to wear a suit at the beginning and that quickly turns out to be a bad idea.
The strength of The Debt Collector comes from the chemistry of the two stars and the banter that goes on between them. Adkins and Mandylor are quite frankly the new Odd Couple and this was a match made in independent action heaven. We are treated to conversations where Adkins ribs on Sue for being a Ninja in a low grade forgettable film to Sue barking at French to watch the whitewalls on his vintage Coup De Ville. Adkins and Mandylor are clearly having fun with the material and it shows in the ease of how well they interact with one another. Sometimes you just know when something works and here it works on a grand scale. Films are won or lost on the audience when it comes to the characters and here Johnson, who also wrote the film with Accident Man scribe Stu Small, has crafted a tale where you are not only vested with the unlucky protagonists but you relate to the struggles they are going through.
It’s not until the third act where the true threat of the movie finally reveals itself and when it does, you just know bad things are going to happen. Tommy enlists French and Sue to accept a job from local crime sleaze Barbosa, played by Candyman’s Tony Todd. Did you ever see a movie where you want the bad guy that to go through a meat processor at the end of the film? Well, that’s Barbosa. He’s bad news and bad news travels fast. After taking on the job for Barbosa, French and Sue quickly find out that all is not what it seems and they have basically been set up to take a very hard fall. It is here that the two make the choice that will forever change their lives.
Now at the root of the film, we have its action set pieces which was marvelously staged by action and sword maestro Luke Lafontaine who also crafted the brawls in Savage Dog. The action is an extension of the film…it is real and it is unforgiving. Adkins shows off his fighting prowess in a series of brawls that are down and dirty. There is no Boyka Guyver kick here because the action is as real and brutal as it gets and it is wonderful. Adkins can do it all. If you want flash, he’s your guy. If you want intricate and refined…paging Mr. Adkins. Mandylor gets in on the fun too and just beats down on individuals with sadistic glee. His has the touch and finesse of a battering ram and it works for him. Lafontaine has taken his years as a stuntman and coordinator and has delivered action that is its own character in the film. The climatic firefight at the end is best described as a grim ballet of bullets and blood where no on walks away a winner. Both Adkins and Mandylor shine when it comes to the physical aspect of the film. Just like they always do. Was there ever any doubt. When you want the best, you hire the best.
Just like its stars, director, Jesse V. Johnson proves once again that he knows how to shoot action and he knows how to make you care about the characters involved in the action. In a career that has grown since the early 2000’s, Johnson has come into his own and he literally is crafting a resume that should have the big wigs at the major studios starting to take notice. But then again, Johnson would probably be better off working on these smaller films where film companies don’t interfere with the artists and their vision. I have said it before and I will say it again, former stunt professionals make the best action directors because they know what the hell the audience is looking for and they give it to them.
Like I said before, The Debt Collector is much more than an action film. At the heart of the movie, is a story about the harsh choices we are faced with in life and the harsh consequences that come from making them. This is a non spoiler review so I will just say that the ending will hit you over the head with blunt force trauma and make you think well after the end credits have finished. There is no sugar coating or cupcakes here but just the hard reality that the world is unforgiving and that the best laid plans are just that…plans and nothing more. Just because you want something to happen doesn’t mean that it is going to and that, my friends, is the cold hard truth. I love that Johnson takes risks and delivers an outcome that was totally unexpected.
To sum it all up. The Debt Collector is another home run from the dynamic due of Adkins and Johnson. It delivers powerful action with an even more powerful message. Adkins is proving with each film that he is much more than an action star and he can deliver a dramatic monologue just as good as he can deliver a lethal kick. Mandylor has always been a great character actor and he makes any film that he is in that much better. I want to see more of the both of them together in films in the future and hopefully that will happen. It’s hard to find great chemistry in a film these days between actors and directors so when something like this happens it was meant to be. The Debt Collector is a diamond in the rough that will never be fully polished but it’s not supposed to be. Come and watch it for the action but stay for everything else that it delivers.
VERDICT: Action-Flix Approved in Spades!
THE DEBT COLLECTOR is Now Availoable on DVD and Digital!