| March 5, 2012

In 2007, when Stone Cold Steve Austin decided to make the move from the wrestling world to the action movie world, it seemed like a good idea. A natural progression. And films such as The Condemned, The Stranger, and Hunt to Kill attest to the type of exciting action to which he can contribute his immeasurable charisma when blessed with a good script and competent direction.
On the flip side, though, films such as Damaged and Recoil attest to the ease with which lazy storytelling can ruin a film, even when, in the case of the latter, you have such charismatic stars as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Danny Trejo facing off against one another.
While the Direct-to-Video (DTV) action movie is presently the dominion of Steven Seagal, Austin has been carving out a nice little niche for himself over the last few years. His characters are generally the grizzled tough guys who have been kicked around by life but who refuse to stay down for the count, and in his best films, he is frequently able to believably convey the paradigmatic duality existing within his characters of violent intentions that obey an incorruptible morality. The Stranger is most illustrative of this type of characterization, and it represents, in my opinion, the apex of Austin’s film career thus far.
Recoil is told in very similar fashion to The Stranger and it had the potential to extend that silent and stoic moralistic vigilante character type of Austin’s and complicate it with the introduction of ethical tenuity, but the film fails on the screenwriting level, making everything in the actual filming process doomed to failure. The painfully incompetently- and implausibly-plotted film tells a half-hearted story of vengeance and vigilantism with action movie clichés thrown at it as if it were a bad joke (corrupt “good ‘ol boy” small town Sheriff, bad ass biker gang, loner chick with an attitude who takes up arms with the hero). Austin plays ex-cop Ryan Varrett. Years ago, his family was murdered by a bunch of thugs and, reminiscent of the Seagal classic Hard to Kill, Austin was present at the massacre but survived in order to exact revenge.
Having killed everyone involved in the execution of his family (or so he thinks…), Varrett has now, at the time of the film’s opening, devoted himself to being a vigilante, traveling all across the country killing the scumbags who have escaped punishment as a result of a fallible justice system.
At this early point, the film has a ton of potential. The opening credit sequence, with Varrett menacingly driving to the site of his next execution in Terminator-like fashion, his left forearm indicating his current kill tally, is a great introduction, and it is followed by an equally excellent execution scene with Varrett killing a guy we learn was a convicted but subsequently released serial killer. Out hunting with his buddies, the hapless killer is surprised in the woods by Varrett, who grabs him by the throat and holds him over the edge of a steep cliff. He hits Varrett in the head with the butt of his rifle as they struggle for the gun, and Varrett barely even flinches, keeping his cold stare fixed on his prey even as blood begins to trickle down the side of his head.
This opening kill establishes Varrett’s character in superlative fashion, and the motif of Varrett being almost superhumanly impervious to pain, as if he were some sort of divine embodiment of Justice that criminals are incapable of warding off, offered great possible material with which to work in the remainder of the film, but the writer and director were both content to ignore further character probing and reduced the film to a series of standard revenge movie set-pieces carelessly copied from Fist of Fury (murdered bodies show up ceremoniously displayed for incensement of the enemy), The Crow (the marked offenders of justice are made to remember their crime before their death, and Noel Gugliemi’s murder is a pretty straightforward rendition of David Patrick Kelly’s memorable murder scene sans poignancy), and just about every Seagal movie ever made.
The action is sufficiently rendered, most admirably in a fantastic fight scene wherein Austin resembles nothing less than a gorilla, violently hurling bikers left-and-right and walking through every punch, kick, pipe shot, and knife slash with gritted teeth and machinal determination, but the lack of characterization—both on the hero’s side with Austin as well as on the villain’s side with Trejo (forced to give life to a cartoon character rather than an original and believable bad guy)—and the indifference with which the cliché-ridden plot (armed with a pathetic and needless “twist”) is unraveled keep Recoil from ascending very high within the action movie ranks.
As with any Stone Cold Steve Austin action movie, the reason to watch Recoil is for the star. Unfortunately, unlike his better DTV offerings, this film really has little else going for it. Still, it is absolutely worth checking out, especially for action fans, who will relish seeing Austin adding more carnage to his action legacy.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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