Gina Carano is the only selling point that In the Blood, a predictable yet enjoyable action flick from Into the Blue helmer John Stockwell, really needs. After all, a hero who’s charismatic, easy on the eyes and capable of kicking some serious ass is hard to come by. Carano fits the bill quite nicely, and she’s the sole reason that action aficionados will (and should) check out In the Blood.
Starring as Ava, a newlywed with a rough past who goes on the hunt for her husband (Cam Giganet) after he disappears following a zip-lining accident on their Caribbean honeymoon, Carano gets her first real opportunity to prove herself as a leading lady (I’d argue that Soderbergh’s touch in Haywire made the film more about him than her). Luckily for In the Blood, there’s more to the actress than just her fists. Though the film’s script, from James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin, throws some ridiculous plot twists her way, Carano nimbly finds the wounded heart of her battle-scarred protagonist and plays the action-heavy part with surprising emotional gravitas. Even when everything else in the film is absurd to the nth degree, Carano impresses.
After a successful career as a mixed martial artist, Carano broke out into the mainstream with the lead role in Haywire, then further solidified her status as an action hero with a supporting role in Fast & Furious 6. It’s clear to see that In the Blood is a step down from those two films in terms of budget and ambition, but the flick does pack a punch while also giving Carano a chance to showcase her dramatic chops.
For a large amount of its runtime, In the Blood plays like a feminist riff on Taken, with Ava quickly dispatching dozens of unsavory characters and drawing the attention of the island’s incompetent police (led by Luis Guzmán, slumming it) whilst searching for her husband. Carano brings a fiery intensity to the role, though the action is disappointingly unremarkable. There are few noteworthy fight or chase sequences, and none that will make you laugh out loud in appreciation or wonder at how a certain maneuver was accomplished. Still, Carano kicks ass, and her fighting style is almost hypnotic in its brusque, take-no-prisoners brutality.
The action takes a little while to get going, but once Ava’s on the move, evading cops and chasing down leads, In the Blood becomes a surprisingly taut, economical thriller. Stockwell’s hyperkinetic handheld camerawork is occasionally disorienting but mostly effective at emphasizing the urgency and desperation of Ava’s every move. Meanwhile, Paul Haslinger’s tense score only adds to the mounting suspense.
In the Blood goes completely off the rails in its final act, as a series of increasingly improbable twists rob the film of any believability, but the bullets and the punches kept flying with such gleeful abandon that I still found myself having a good time. With a movie like In the Blood (I mean, that title alone), you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief and just accept certain things (like Ava’s superhuman eyesight, and her incredible ability to walk into the right shady club at exactly the right time… every time). As long as you’re not expecting a particularly coherent thriller, In the Blood has enough smackdowns and firefights to satisfy.
Stephen Lang has been featured considerably by the film’s publicity campaign, but he really has a non-role as Ava’s fugitive father, who appears in flashback to explain how Ava earned her very particular set of skills. The same goes for Danny Trejo, who only appears in two scenes and does little more than chew the scenery (but boy can he chew). Giganet is playing a totally useless character, but he basically fulfills his purpose, establishing passable chemistry with Carano and acting as suitable eye candy for all the ladies who’ll get reluctantly dragged into watching In the Blood with their overly eager boyfriends.
Guzmán, portraying a real skeeze of a police captain, is forced to play straight throughout his performance, which must have been tough for the typically over-the-top actor. Unfortunately, above all else, he just doesn’t look like he’s having much fun with the underwritten role, especially whenever he’s called in for an exposition dump. The only actor playing on Carano’s level is Amaury Nolasco, who sinks his teeth into the role of a vicious, cancer-riddled gangster named Silvio. The thrilling (if overlong) final showdown between the two is unquestionably In the Blood‘s strongest scene.
Taken simply as an action vehicle for Carano, In the Blood does its job. Yes, the plot is holey, the supporting cast is largely ineffectual and I didn’t buy it for a second, but there’s something to be said for supremely undemanding action fare like this. Plus, any movie brave enough to let Carano both play dirty and actually act gets a pass in my book. The revelation that the actress can both out-fight and out-perform everyone else in the flick is just icing on the cake.