You have to feel a little bit sorry for Gary Dourdan. The veteran actor, best known for his role on the hit CBS procedural CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, has been given a plum starring role in the new action thriller Redemption Day. And while at age 54 he’s no spring chicken for such an assignment, Dourdan reveals such a powerful, pumped-up physique and commanding screen presence it’s easy to imagine that he’s been commandeering such cinematic vehicles for years. Unfortunately, Hicham Hajji’s debut — while featuring an impressive supporting cast and admirably attempting to inject political commentary into its mix — proves such a wan, ineffective vehicle that it leaves its star all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Dourdan plays U.S. Marine Captain Brad Paxton, who at the story’s beginning is returning home to his wife and young daughter after participating in a humanitarian mission in Syria that went awry. It soon becomes apparent that Paxton is suffering from PTSD as a result of the experience. (Which brings up another issue regarding these sorts of films. Do servicemen in movies always have to be either raging psychopaths or emotionally tortured as a result of their wartime experiences?)
It’s the movie that needs saving.
Paxton doesn’t have much time to rest up. Not long after he arrives, his archaeologist wife Kate (Serinda Swan, Smallville, lending much needed emotionality to the proceedings) embarks on a trip to Morocco to excavate a hidden ancient city recently discovered beneath the desert.
It isn’t hard to guess what happens next. Kate and several of her colleagues are either killed or kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, led by Jaafar El Hadi (Samy Naceri, of Luc Besson’s Taxi franchise), after crossing the border into Algeria. So naturally Paxton flies to Morocco to lead a rescue mission, generating a series of poorly staged, uncompelling action sequences featuring the requisite number of shootouts and explosions. Although thanks to the murky cinematography, you often have a hard time seeing exactly what’s going on.
The screenplay, co-written by director Hajji with Sam Chouia and Lemore Syvan, goes for a paranoid ’70s-era vibe with several scenes depicting the political machinations involving oil that complicate the mission. They literally take place in a smoke-filled room, with Andy Garcia as a smug ambassador, letting his cigar do most of the acting, and Martin Donovan assuming his by now familiar role of a scheming government official. Be sure to stick around for the final scenes featuring an amusing cameo from Robert Knepper as a Southern politician, complete with molasses drawl, white suit and ornate cane.
Often unintentionally comic in its effect (I particularly enjoyed the helpful onscreen graphic “Terrorists’ Compound,” presumably to make sure we wouldn’t confuse the setting with an American Girl store), the film fails to engage on either an intellectual or visceral level. The filmmaker’s idea of action scenes seems to have been generated by a heavy consumption of violent video games, with the result that you find yourself reflexively reaching for a joystick that isn’t there.
Dourdan has the required intensity and physical presence for his role, and, as he’s demonstrated on previous occasions, possesses no shortage of charisma. But he’s unable to overcome the mechanical elements that make Redemption Day such an enervating, routine exercise.
Production companies: Voltage Pictures, H Films, Buffalo 8 Productions
Distributor: Saban Films (in theaters and VOD)
Cast: Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Andy Garcia, Brice Bexter, Martin Donovan, Ernie Hudson, Sami Naceri, Don Bigg, Lilia Hajji, Robert Knepper
Director: Hicham Hajji
Screenwriters: Hicham Hajji, Samy Chouia, Lemore Syvan
Producers: Hicham Hijji, David Zilberberg
Executive producers: Steven Adams, Matthew Helderman, Jonathan Sheldon, Luke Taylor, Khadija Alami, Mounin Hajjam, Renan Bourdeau, Bobby Roth
Director of photography: Philip Lozano
Production designer: Rabia N’Gadi
Music: Sacha Chaban
Editor: Karim Ouaret
Costume designers: Natalie Van Der Meulen, Mohamed Bougati
Casting: Nancy Foy
Rated R, 99 minutes