John Travolta tends to occupy the same kind of cinematic space as Nicolas Cage these days. He shows up frequently in low-budget thrillers and action pics that all seem to be about the same and are doomed to be VOD fodder. Though he can still do good work in better than average films, like last year's The Forger, he doesn't really ever get the critical acclaim Cage can still receive from time to time in things like Joe (both those films co-star Tye Sheridan, coincidence?). I guess it's only suiting that Travolta's latest film I Am Wrath originally had Cage attached to star, showing how cookie cutter these films are and how interchangeable they can be in these types of roles. Production delays forced Cage to drop out due to the slew of movies he always has in production, so Travolta took up the reigns, but sadly this is one time where Cage would have actually been much better in the role. Travolta just feels a little out of place in this film and at best is just kind of doing a Nicolas Cage thing. Though I Am Wrath isn't necessarily a bad film and does have some saving graces, it's much more in line with throwaways like Rage than with anything that could give Travolta some much needed attention.
Travolta stars as Stanley Hill, a guy with some vague job managing a car company or something, coming home to his wife Vivian (an underused Rebecca De Mornay), who has some vague job testing the possibilities of water contamination from a proposed pipeline from Governor Meserve (Patrick St. Espirit). After Vivian is killed in an apparent mugging gone wrong and with no help from the cops, Stanley takes it upon himself to get vengeance for her murder. Big surprise, Stanley used to be Black-Ops or Special Forces or some shit, so they messed with the wrong guy with a particular set of skills or whatever, you know the drill. He gets some help from his old partner Dennis (Godsend and all around American treasure Christopher Meloni) to find his wife's killers and blow open the obvious conspiracy surrounding it. Stanley punches and shoots his way through the drug dealers and crooked cops to get his own justice and even gets the film's title tattooed on his back along the way (and that thing must have gotten infected, for sure).
I was surprised to find that this film was directed by Chuck Russell, a veteran director with some massive hits on his resume. After getting his start with the 3rd (and arguably best) A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, he scored a pair of huge hits with The Mask and Eraser, but kind of went away after that. He would make a film every few years with sub par stuff like Bless the Child and The Scorpion King, but this is his first feature film in 14 years and he seems to have gotten a bit rusty. Much of the action is fine and he certainly seems to be having some fun moving the camera around, but the overall aesthetic is pretty bland and it feels like they ended up with just barely enough material to make this film feature length (it runs about 84 minutes without credits). The film really could have used a little more time to establish itself and the leads instead of just rushing into a pretty predictable story with vague brushstrokes for characters. Even the last few scenes feel like tacked on afterthoughts to extend the story a little further.
So, this film is definitely a mixed bag. On the positive side, Christopher Meloni is great and steals every scene he's in while also having a nice chemistry with Travolta. The fact that he could go from something as hilarious and silly as Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp to being such a believable badass in this just serves as further proof that Meloni needs to be in everything. While the whole plot is rather cliché and predictable, the last 10-15 minutes get downright ridiculous and batshit in a way that would have been welcome in the rest of the film. The dirty cop that jumps out of the trunk of an exploding car, getting engulfed in the flames, only to show up at the end with a small burn on one side of his face, is the kind of what the fuckery this film needed more of. If it had gone that over the top the whole way through, this could have ended up being a memorably entertaining B-movie, instead of the ultimately forgettable C-movie it actually is. There's also a slight religious element to the story, but it doesn't really add anything or go anywhere for the characters. It mostly seems to serve the film's title and the writer's love of the word wrath. One thing that might just be a pet peeve of mine, but continuously took me out of the film, was the incessant use of text bubbles when someone is sending a message on their phone. Not only does this happen A LOT in this movie, but that technique just feels more at home in comedy films as opposed to somewhat serious action films. I couldn't help but laugh every time it happened in what's supposed to be a serious scene, complete with improper grammar and punctuation.
I Am Wrath is really just a standard revenge shoot 'em up with some talented people in front of and behind the camera. It couldn't find its place, neither capturing the drama and gravitas to make it special or fully committing to the campy madness it sprinkles throughout. I wish I had liked this film more, as I do still enjoy Travolta and would like to see him in better (and theatrically released) films from time to time, but this one just didn't really hit the mark. It wasn't a total waste of time, as it gave me a few laughs and did contain some well done sequences, but it got in its own way too often and showed itself as just another “dad with a dark past killing the bad guys” film, which is practically at the point of parody now. If you have 90 minutes to kill (he-he) and enjoy seeing these types of films over and over again, then check it out on Amazon. If not, maybe wait to see if Travolta can knock it out of the park with the next one, or just wait for Nicolas Cage to bring his special brand of crazy with his next foray into this trope.
5 out of 10 distractingly bad hair pieces (come on, I couldn't go this whole review without at least one mention of how bad Travolta's wig looks in this)