Copper Jack Stone purposefully orchestrates a bank robbery in order to be thrown into prison with the notorious Russian kingpin Balam. Balam is more than just a mob criminal; he’s a very cunning and dangerous crime lord who controls the police force from behind bars. However, even surrounded by his loyal henchmen and guards in his sectioned off fortress. Balam doesn’t know Jack is coming for him to avenge his family, who Balam murdered in cold blood.
With that we have Riot (Nha Giam Dia Nguc) which finds its way on the shelves with almost no fanfare. As a Lundgren completist and aficionado, it’s only my fandom (don’t laugh…no seriously…stop laughing…) that gives me any idea this film came out. That said I went a full two weeks after the release of War Pigs before realising it had come out. It completely slipped my mind, such is my ever growing indifference to Lundgren specials. However, it’s the Christmas season and there’s a new Dolph film out shortly after Santa has finished his rounds. I felt like making the purchase.
Riot is not really a Dolph Lundgren film. It’s a Matthew Reese film. No, I don’t know who he is either, but he also produced this so I would imagine he’s gone through the rigmarole of getting a film made so he can showcase himself as a leading man for direct to video action cinema. He’s not bless with masses of charisma. But he’s not too bad and he does what matters in a film like this, which is to kick some bottoms. He does that pretty well to be fair. Reese plays Jack Stone. It couldn’t be a more formulaic action name. In what couldn’t be a more formulaic prison based action film.
Stone has himself sent down for a bank robbery and murder in order to infiltrate a prison housing a crime kingpin called Balam (Chuck Liddell) who called Stone’s wife. Stone wants cold hard revenge. Meanwhile the bank he’d previously robbed he’d obtained evidence Balam had stored away that incriminates all manner of public officials and prison officials in a vast web of corruption and Stone has those files sent to a roving reporter in the hope she can blow the whistle on the whole shindig. Stone simply bides his time in the prison, waiting for the moment he can find himself going mano-a-mano with Balam.
It’s not complicate or dramatically that engaging. But in fairness to Riot it sets about achieving its goals with minimum fuss. And there’s actually a concerted effort here to make a solid action film. Despite the anaemic budget the film is well stuff with action as, aside from a Heat inspired opening heist. Stone has to perpetually fight off a load of assailants who want to murder him after Balam puts a price on his head. Meanwhile Stone finds an unexpected ally in William (Lundgren) a quiet and simple inmate who may not be everything he seems.
There’s little subtlety to Riot but where it should be commended is its efficiency. The sub-plot with the reporter doesn’t slow the film too much. Whilst the brisk run-time and quick pace mean this doesn’t outstay its welcome. The biggest strength comes in the form of its action which is brimming with energy and some impressive stunts. The finale 15 minutes of the film is a full blown prison riot with some decent sequences which make this a passable action flick. In many ways this film injects into its action what was lacking in something like the bigger budgeted film. Escape Plan (with Sly and Arnold…remember?). Occasionally these prison based actioners can too often grind to a halt or be too mundane in terms of action. But Riot loads the film with an assortment of MMA inspired throwdowns and stunt men pelt themselves around the sets with sadistic glee.
Lundgren is more engaged here than in his last few films where he seemed like he wanted to pull up a deck chair and fall asleep. Chuck Liddell looks suitably menacing as a villain but his inexperience as an actor shows with an inconsistent performance which ranges from menace to cartoon villain, whilst his accent appears to jump from Mexican to Russian among others.
Director John Lyde does an effective enough job. He injects the film with a solid pace and more importantly allows the audience to see the action. This isn’t reliant on shaky cameras, overly tight shots or frantic editing. The choreography is good and the leads can actually fight.