There’s something about Marauders that prevents this familiarly-generic crime thriller from becoming a grungy haze of bullets and backstabbing – Christopher Meloni. The long-time Law & Order: SVU star/two-time “crazy cook talking to a can of vegetables” does what he does best: broods, confronts and conjures vein-popping intensity like pulling a rabbit from a thug’s beanie.
Director Steven C. Miller charters familiar action-centric territory with atmospheric ease, while writers Chris Sivertson and Michael Cody draw up an inside-the-box thriller that might have tanked without Meloni leading the charge. You won’t be blown away by this VOD-bound mystery, but fans of good-cop-bad-cop suspense will enjoy tagging along with this serviceable squad of hometown “heroes.”
That, or you’ll chuckle at how “human golem” Dave Bautista looks like he’s about to bust out of every cheap FBI jumper.
Christopher Meloni stars as Special Agent Montgomery, a Cincinnati-based FBI operative who fights the corruption of justice both on the streets and in the local police force. By his side are Agent Stockwell (Dave Bautista) and their new rookie, Agent Wells (Adrian Grenier) – or “GI Joe” as his colleagues nickname him. Together, these lawman are tasked with ending a spree of bank robberies that are tied to a large corporate banking firm (run by the eldest Hubert, played by Bruce Willis). The deeper Montgomery digs into the Hubert name though, the more tangled the rash of heists becomes in past corruption. Money, greed, death – you know how these cases go….
On that note, you also know how these movies look. Criminals dress in tactical gear characterized by signature masks (out EA Games’ Army Of Two), break-ins are frantically captured by whirling cameras, and darkness sets the tone for dangerous encounters (conversations/illegal acts). While you could interchange some scenes with Triple 9/The Last Heist/any other 2016 shoot-em-up, cinematographer Brandon Cox works with Steven C. Miller to establish flawless, sleek shots that fight VOD’s lackluster stigma. Release Marauders in theaters and it’d compare shot-for-shot to any other big-budget actioner, built on rain-soaked, quick-moving fluidity.
That said, Chris Sivertson and Michael Cody feel like they’re cramming too many arcs into this boys-club robbery romp. Between Meloni’s aggression, Bautista’s massive muscles and Grenier’s boyishly deceiving charms, most female characters find themselves choked-out by testosterone. It works given the overly-macho scenario – no pro-feminism rant coming here – but what doesn’t quite slide are the few forced scenes of failed red herrings/expected badassery. A Mexican standoff that blurs moral justice, the “bad-cop who isn’t totally bad” fighting for redemption, the false orders that deceive numerous spec ops teams – these are all “cool” add-ins, but a constant barrage of twists will leave continuity-hounds feeling a bit woozy.
That said, consider Christopher Meloni your calming dose of Dramamine. The man was born to uphold the law and battle inner demons. Meloni channels a cloud of darkness into super-cop rage everywhere Montgomery goes, where the coyest of threats are delivered with dagger-like intensity. Bautista’s Hulk-like stature is no match for Meloni’s do-gooding grit, nor is Grenier’s supple intellect. Meloni plays a raging bull who bursts through doors with the fury of 1,000 Michael Chiklis clones, even finding facially-recognized pain in a half-full glass of Pinot Noir. He’s more than the hero we need – he’s the hero Marauders needed to fight an otherwise winding, unintentionally obvious game of cops and robbers.
From an action standpoint, Miller isn’t dealing with your typical run-and-gun vagrants. Marauders brings gunpoint-thievery into the 21st century with gadgets like watch-controlled talk boxes and high-powered military digs. Miller’s masked burglars enter swiftly, carry out their acts of Robin Hood vigilantism (even saving a security guard), then flee the scene all while operating under a definitive time-frame. Intentions are never to kill the innocent – only when Sivertson and Cody need to show their slipping control of a wildly irrational situation. There’s more than a lust for riches motivating Montgomery’s targets, which provide enough commentary to account for a lesser focus on bullet-dodging shootouts between urban warriors.
Simply put, Marauders is an expected watch that brings enough to the table. For every scene that Bruce Willis unenthusiastically forces dialogue, there’s Christopher Meloni to punch us in the face with his commanding, ever-enraged presence. Plotting may stumble along without many challenges, but better acting keeps eyes at attention. For every aspect that could have tripped-up Steven C. Miller’s latest film, there’s a saving counter-balance to pull us right back in. Follow the light that is Meloni, and you’ll be fine – a rule to live your life by.
Marauders is not a monumental effort by any means, but some solid acting saves a fledgling script that tries to be a million different thrillers at once.