Watching Daughter of the Wolf, the new thriller starring Gina Carano, all I could concentrate on was her co-star, Richard Dreyfuss. First, I wondered if he ever imagined he would be reduced to this sort of B-level material when winning an Academy Award for The Goodbye Girl and working for directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Paul Mazursky and Barry Levinson. Then I became concerned about how the 71-year-old actor fared while working outdoors in frigid, snowy British Columbia during the winter. Was he properly dressed? Was his trailer warm enough? Did craft services provide enough hot food?
These are probably not issues that director David Hackl (Saw V, Into the Grizzly Maze) hoped to raise with this latest attempt to elevate Carano to the action movie A-list that seemed a sure bet after her starring turn in Stephen Soderbergh’s 2011 Haywire. A former MMA star, Carano clearly has the impressive physicality and charisma to compete with the male stars in this arena. But she’s going to need far better vehicles than this humdrum effort.
A subpar vehicle for an action star who deserves better.
Carano plays Clair, a special forces operative (there seem to so many movie characters with similar backgrounds that I’m beginning to think these forces aren’t special at all) who returns home after the death of her lumber-mill magnate father. A gang of criminals, led by an elderly man referred to only as “Father” (Dreyfuss), have kidnapped her teenage son Charlie (Anton Gillis-Adelman). Clair has arranged to pay the steep ransom, but when they attempt to renege on the deal, she naturally springs into action.
In the resulting melee, Clair takes a hostage of her own in the form of Larsen (Brendan Fehr), one of the henchmen, who gets shot in the leg. He’s demonstrated that he’s not really such a bad guy by rescuing her when she falls through the ice of a frozen lake and nearly drowns. She orders him at gunpoint to lead her to their lair where her son is being held. Much cat-and-mouse-style violence ensues, complicated by the vast legions of wolves who periodically show up looking for a warm meal.
Screenwriter Nika Agiashvili (Tiblisi, I Love You) has provided a reasonably effective setup for the shootouts, knife fights, snowmobile chases and other forms of mayhem. He’s less effective when it comes to providing dialogue that doesn’t court cliché at every turn. “I didn’t come here for no killing,” Larsen tells Clair when she asks him why he didn’t let her die. Later, exhibiting an unlikely curiosity, he asks her, “You ever get used to taking a man’s life?”
Judging by Clair’s bad-ass behavior throughout, she’s more than gotten used to it. Dreyfuss’ Father, however, is another story. Channeling Walter Brennan, the actor entertainingly chews the icy scenery, delivering his lines in a bizarre accent suggesting that British Columbia is a rogue part of the deep South. He also gamely launches into his role’s physical demands, including batting a wolf off a cliff with a rifle. But it’s beyond the talents of the film’s stunt coordinator to make his brawl with Carano remotely convincing. Nor is director Hackl able to sell the more outlandish action sequences, including one in which Clair miraculously survives falling hundreds of feet in a waterfall with barely a bruise or scratch.
Clocking in at a brisk 91 minutes, Daughter of the Wolf doesn’t wear out its welcome, lasting about as long as it would take to knock off a fully loaded pizza and six-pack of beer while watching it on late-night VOD. But Carano, not to mention the audience, deserves better.
Production companies: Minds Eye Entertainment, Falconer Entertainment
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Gina Carano, Richard Dreyfuss, Brendan Fehr, Anton Gillis-Adelman, Sydelle Noel
Director: David Hackl
Screenwriter: Nika Agiashviili
Producers: Kevin Dewalt, Dougals Falconcer, Danielle Masters, Benjamin Dewalt
Executive producers: Allison Taylor, Jason Brooks, Robert Jones, Cahrles Auty, Marcel Leblanc, Rorbert B. Bricker, Charles Saikaley, Tamer Abaza, Andre Relis
Director of photography: Mark Dobrescu
Production designer: Kathy McCoy
Editor: Jackie Dzuba
Composer: Jeff Toyne
Costume designer: Brenda Shenher
Casting: Deb Green
Rated R, 91 minutes