Allan Ungar’s Gridlocked may feature a premise reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, but its heart is firmly in love with the action films of the 80’s and 90’s. Harkening back to a time when odd couple pairings, bullets and explosions were a staple dish for movie goers on a Saturday night, Ungar’s film serves up that greasy action junk food that, while artery clogging, taste damn good going down.
Former SWAT leader David Hendrix (Dominic Purcell) is drowning in the mundane nature of life as a regular police officer. Tired of busting low level drug dealers, Hendrix is even less impressed that his latest assignment involves babysitting Hollywood bad boy actor Brody Walker (Cody Hackman). Recently charged with assaulting the paparazzi, before proceeding to drive under the influence, Walker must complete his ride-along with Hendrix in order to prove to his agent that he is committed to changing his old ways. Though the pair cannot stand each other initially, their individual sense of isolation from the worlds they love causes the men to develop a mutual level of respect.
Deciding to give Walker an exclusive tour of his old stomping grounds, Hendricks takes the young actor to a SWAT training facility to meet his former team. However, unbeknownst to Hendricks, a group of deadly mercenaries, led by an old acquaintance named Korver (Stephen Lang), is plotting to infiltrate the facility and steal an item that few people even know exist. Cut off from the outside world, and with a small team of trained agents – including Gina (Trish Stratus), Scott (Steve Byers), Jason (James A. Woods) and a guard named Sully (Danny Glover) – to hold down the fort, Hendricks must use the limited resources at his disposal if he and his team hope on surviving the night.
In an age where action films attempt to defy physics by having cars jump between buildings, or try to offer an allegory regarding the intricate nature of foreign policy, there is something really refreshing about Gridlocked ’s no nonsense approach. Ungar’s film never aims to be more than what it is, and that is actually a good thing. The film entertains on that primal shoot ‘em up level that many films nowadays lack. Bullets fly with reckless abandonment, characters manage to take out countless nameless mercenaries without getting hit themselves, and audiences watch all the carnage with a big smile on their face. It also helps that Ungar incorporates enough buddy cop style comedic banter to solidify the nostalgia even further.
The strong work by the cast, which also features the likes of Vinnie Jones and Saul Rubinek in supporting roles, helps to keep the film moving forward at brisk and light pace. Purcell has made a career of late playing the stoic tough guy, or the stoic anti-hero in the case of the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow television series, but it works well here. He brings enough charisma to his scenes with Hackman to sell the odd couple pairing. Plus, the fact that Glover’s character makes reference to an iconic line from Lethal Weapon is further proof that Ungar and crew are fully aware of the type of film they are making. This is a film that is heavy on action, but never takes itself too seriously.
Sure Gridlocked may not have the same lasting resonance as say a Mad Max: Fury Road, but Ungar’s film never strives for that. It is happy to simply be a crowd-pleasing action thrill ride that is far more entertaining than it should probably be.
Tuesday, October 20, 9:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto After Dark website.