By: John M Jerva
After watching Robert Bronzi’s last action effort Escape from Death Block 13 which was an exercise in over-the-top 80’s style excess, I was very curious about how his next offering would stack up. After all, this one has him locking horns with martial arts/action star Gary Daniels in a savage home invasion thriller called The Gardener. At first glance, this film is another B movie retread in the Die Hard style of how to do action but Bronzi brings a certain amount of low-key charm to his characters that makes him watchable in these types of films which are definitely hit or miss. The Gardener most certainly does not reinvent the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but it still delivers an adequate viewing for genre fans who are looking for a movie that resembles something that you would pick up on the shelf of your local video store.
Bronzi stars as Paul Juhasz who is a very quiet and mild-mannered gardener who works on the quiet English estate of a transplanted family who consists of the father Stephen (Richard Kovacs) and the mother Lauren (Nicola Wright). From the get-go, we know that Stephen’s job isn’t going well because he is constantly yelling on the phone and is stressed out to say the least. This causes a huge strain on the family and the teenage children Hannah (Sarah T. Cohen) and Justin (Jake Watkins) who are old enough to know that something is wrong with mom and dad. Paul goes about his daily business, tending to the grounds and even strikes up a friendship with Justin. Justin doesn’t have the best relationship with his father, so Paul is a definite maternal substitute as he shows Justin how to trim and cut around the yard.
Family issues is the least of this family’s problems as there are a group of ruthless thieves led by the cold and calculating Volker (Gay Daniels) who are eyeing the home because there is something very valuable that they want. This group of killers are as bad as they come as we see in the opening scene of the movie where one of them mercilessly guns down a pregnant woman during a botched job. Volker runs a tight ship and has a code and moral compass that runs from the traditions of the Samurai and if you screw up. you’re going to pay the ultimate price.
Needless to say, this mission doesn’t go according to plan either as the family was supposed to be gone during the heist but that’s not the case. The gang which includes Drake (Jon Callaway) and the short fused Riley (Arthur Boan) break into the house only to discover that the family sans daughter who left for the evening is still at home forcing them to alter their plans and when Riley gets trigger happy, things go from bad to worse.
In true throwback action fashion, Paul is alerted of the thieves’ presence when he hears gun shots, and it just so happens that he’s a former soldier who has a particular set of skills that have been dormant since he left that lifestyle. Before you can say John McClane, Paul breaks into action fending off the killers at every turn which sets him on a lethal collision course with the deadly Volker who is set on mopping things up and completing the job.
When you see a movie like The Gardener that stars the Charles Bronson doppelganger Robert Bronzi, you pretty much know what you’re in store for. However, unlike Escape from Dearth Block 13 which was rather laughable at the wrong times, this new Bronzi joint is much more entertaining even though it doesn’t have any big action set pieces but it’s more grounded approach is what makes it better. This film plays out like a cat and mouse game and when the fighting does hit, it’s serviceable and brutally enjoyable for what it’s worth.
Bronzi plays the strong and quiet type perfectly and he is so sincere with his performance of Paul that you can’t help but root for him when he breaks into one man army mode. Bronzi, who does have a strong accent, will never win any awards for acting but he does the best with what he has, and he is definitely not the worse that there is or was in the action genre. When the action is called for, Bronzi is game with the choreography and while it isn’t John Wick caliber, I was still entertained with what was on the screen and the fights were stripped down and realistic to a point.
The real star of the film is Mr. Gary Daniels. It’s no secret on this site that I’ve been a fan of Daniels since the early 90’s so I might be a little biased where he’s concerned but he looks just as good here as he did back then, and his fighting prowess has not lost a step. Daniels plays Volker with a sinister flair, and he is clearly having a fun time playing the bad guy as he chews up the scenes that he’s in. It’s important to mention that Daniels is more of an extended cameo in the movie as he is only in a hand full of scenes, but he makes his presence felt and is on camera enough to satisfy his legion of fans who have come to see him dish out his signature moves.
The first half of The Gardener is a slow burn as the directing duo of Scott Jeffrey and Rebecca J Matthews try to establish chemistry with the family and Paul as well as the gang of thugs who are actively surveilling the house before they hit it. We do get a nice if short sequence where Volker dishes out some pain to a trio of hapless goons who screwed up but it’s not until the last half an hour of the film’s 88-minute running time where things heat up. Some fans might lose interest before the finale where Paul unleashes his inner killer, but I stuck with it and was pleasantly surprised with the pay off. There is also a twist in the plot that you will see coming from a mile away and when it does hit, it makes you hate a certain character even more.
There are more fisticuffs than firepower to be had unlike Bronzi’s earlier action effort which was fine by me, and we get a few tussles between Paul and the invaders that are pretty decent and serve their purpose. There are some pretty solid kills that will please genre afficionados which include a lawnmower and trimming shears and Bronzi gets to fight dirty throughout which is always a plus. There are some shooting moments but nothing noteworthy to speak of however and I was just waiting for the big finale where Daniels would take on Bronzi for all the marbles. Michael Hoad served as the action director and he does an admiral job with the moves on each altercation giving each fight an authentic appeal to it. There are some flashy moments mixed in but for the most part, Hoad keeps things on the straight and narrow with each scrape that Bronzi gets into and it goes for more of a brawl effect.
The climax does come and while Daniels does get to strut his stuff for a few minutes, I was left wanting more as his throwdown with Bronzi was too short and rather lackluster. I still enjoyed it and it’s always awesome to see Daniels move, but I was let down a little bit with the length and choreography. Daniels does look fantastic as always and Bronzi keeps up and looks like Bronson throwing some haymakers but if you want to see Daniels really do his thing, then pop in an older movie from his filmography into the DVD player instead.
Daniels does have another film coming out hopefully in 2022 called Bring Him Back Dead where he plays the anti-hero who’s a criminal on the run from other criminals led by the always game Louis Mandylor. Here’s hoping there’s more of that good old Daniels’ magic in that one and he gets more opportunity to give us what we want. He still has a lot left in the tank and looks like he did back in the 90’s when he was putting out solid DTV offerings like Rage, Fist of the North Star and Riot to just name a few.
One enjoyable aspect of the movie does come from its score from Dean McGinnes. For a low budgeted affair, the music does set the tone and atmosphere and there are even hints of a horror movie vibe to it. When the action does hit, there are enough guitar riffs and synth like beats to accompany what is on the screen and it heightens the chaos that is going on and will remind you of something out of the VHS era of adrenaline laced entertainment.
Overall, The Gardener is a definite step up from Escape from Death Block 13 and Robert Bronzi is at the top of his game here and this is, without a doubt, his best film to date but there are ample missed opportunities to be had and Gary Daniels is slick and solid as usual, but I wanted to see more. It’s a solid DTV flick with serviceable action scenes for a Saturday night viewing but nothing memorable that will lead you to watching this one again. Daniels does get to show off for a spell, but this viewer wanted more of it. The finale is too short after the initial build up and even though I knew Daniels was going to come up with the short straw, I still wanted to see him execute more before he went down. I will say that his demise was worthy of an action film villain death so there’s that. Go in with your expectations meter set low and you might enjoy a little of what The Gardener has to offer.
One important note to ponder is that The Gardener does take place during the Christmas season so if you enjoy this one then you will have another action film to add to your Christmas viewing arsenal. After all, nothing says Ho-Ho-Ho more than a Charles Bronson look alike taking down armed invaders reminiscent of Home Alone. This Kevin isn’t playing around however and he doesn’t let the bad guys stay breathing like that other kid did. At least I have another Gary Daniels holiday themed film to choose from if I’m in the mood. Happy Holidays!!!!