By: Anthony Francis
Female driven Action films. Let’s have ‘em. Keep them coming.
The good news? Over the last decade or so, mainstream Hollywood has allowed the modern Action picture to warm to the idea of tough-as-nails female-led protagonists.
The bad news? Ninety nine percent of them always revolve around a female assassin. Hollywood seems to think that the only way a woman can truly be accepted in an Action film is if she is a trained killer with the skills of a ninja.
As far as the Action genre goes, it is the smaller independent and/or foreign companies who are intent on changing the game and breaking stereotypes.
Director Phillip S. Plowden sets out to prove that badass women can be “regular folk” in his latest film, “Range Runners”.
A very good Celeste M. Cooper is Mel, an uber-focused runner trying to achieve her goal of hiking and running the Appalachian Trail.
Tiffany Renee Johnson is her sister Chloe, who is accompanying Mel on her journey, driving her to and meeting her at various points to get her fresh supplies and secure lodging for them at night.
As the film gets going, Mel is beginning an eight-day-long stretch where she will be deep in the mountains and be completely out of contact.
It is while she is isolated and alone in the wilderness, she meets two shady men; Wayland (Sean Patrick Leonard) and Jared (Michael B. Woods). Jared has a foot injury that, being a lifelong runner, Mel knows how to diagnose. Wayland assured her that that his partner’s injury is not that bad, even when Mel sees his arm bleeding from what looks like a gunshot. Something is off and she knows it but keeps her cool.
The meeting won’t be their first, as Mel “runs into them” a couple more time as Each time, more is revealed and the danger becomes greater, as it becomes clear that Wayland and Jared are bad dudes, as she discovers the two are involved in a bad drug deal. They want her backpack. The two men need to survive the mountains.
A scuffle leads to Mel being knocked unconscious and tied by belt to a cabin post, as the two villains take her pack and try to make their way out. Does Mel get out of her restraints? Of course!
In the opening moments (and peppered throughout the film), director Plowden shows flashbacks of a younger Mel being trained by her father (Carl Clemons-Hopkins). The man is tough on the girl but these scenes show the drive and determination to succeed that was instilled in Mel long ago. It is this drive to survive (win) that will become her greatest strength against her two foes.
The character of Wayland is fairly one note. He is the vicious one who exudes violence and danger. Jared is the softer and weaker of the two. He is bullied by Wayland and, as the two men leave Mel tied to the post, he tells her that he isn’t this kind of person.
Woods is solid as the put-upon Jared. There is something human inside this man and the actor’s performance is believable and plays with the audience’s feelings towards him
Leonard is less interesting as Wayland. The actor grimaces and spews out normal villainous lines with the expected macho baddie bravado. He is okay but we have this type of portrayal many times before.
Celeste M. Cooper does very good work as Mel. The actress completely sells the character’s resolve and tortured focus on her survival, as her father’s harsh training echoes in her mind.
Things get brutal and Mel gets badass when she must. There is no winning against desperate men and she knows it. Eventually she will prove to them that a desperate woman is not as easy a target as they thought.
The film works and the mountainside survival action moments are exciting. These scenes are bloody and brutal and contain a raw intensity that is quite palpable.
Darryl Miller’s cinematography adds to these moments. The director and his cameraman use the backdrop of their natural setting to enhance the dangers of the cliffs and rocks that are as much an obstacle to Mel as the villains. The scenery is gorgeous but probably due to budget constraints, the film is shot in Illinois. Still, Miller’s work sells the film’s setting well.
With blood, sweat, and broken bones, “Range Runners” is a tight and rugged little Thriller that entertains.