Chain of Command

| September 21, 2015

I recently started listening to a fun new podcast called The Black List Table Reads.  The blacklist is an annual list of promising screenplays in Hollywood that have not been produced.  The podcast takes scripts from this list and produces them as radio plays complete with professional actors (Colin Hanks, Paul Scheer), score, and sound effects.  The two comedies they’ve done as well as their most recent entry, Chrome Noir, about a murder mystery in a version of 1920s New York where artificially intelligent robots and humans co-exist, have all been great.  It puzzles me then why movies like Chain of Command get made all the time while anything unique or interesting has to win a proverbial lottery to make it to production.

Chain of Command is a very standard action movie about James Webster (Michael Jai White; The Dark Knight), who has just returned from active duty overseas in time for his brother to be murdered.  Webster then must investigate the murder and finds himself in the middle of a drug-smuggling plot, fighting for his life.  That’s about it, but interestingly, it appears that whoever wrote the summary on the back of the blu-ray didn’t even watch the movie.  Webster doesn’t witness his brother’s murder, he doesn’t try to “retaliate” by hunting down the murderers (he just investigates and finds the guy, but never seems that upset about it), and the conspiracy doesn’t “cut deep inside the walls of the U.S. government.”  Also, Steve Austin never struck me as “the most ruthless military assassin” as he mostly just walks around menacingly.

A lot of the acting is terrible here.  I know Michael Jai White can act.  I liked him in The Dark Knight, and even his role in Universal Soldier: The Return is exactly what it was supposed to be.  Here, he seems to be completely uninterested in being a part of this movie.  I don’t know if the director didn’t do multiple takes, or if everyone was just filling time until the next action sequence, but White’s performance here is stiff and boring.  Unfortunately, he’s not the worst performance in the film.  Steve Austin isn’t bringing anything interesting to the table as our primary villain, most of the other villains are stereotypically racist monsters, and all of the women are flat, boring, set pieces waiting to be victimized.

I even had a hard time enjoying the action sequences.  There’s never any threat of Webster losing a hand-to-hand fight, and the special effects in the gun fights are ridiculous.  During the climactic gun fight, setting aside the fact that everyone’s guns have infinite ammo (continuity errors are expected in bad action movies), but the worse offender is that when the bullets hit walls and doors, they explode in a puff of dust and don’t leave a bullet hole.  There are occasionally dents from bullets that disappear after the next cut, but no bullet seems to ever go through a brick wall or even a wooden door.  That’s just lazy filmmaking.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate on September 22.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD
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