Martial arts fandom persists with the help of flourishing successes in film and TV. Direct-to-video releases, an underdog portion of the current market, sputters due no less to the profusion of torrents but nevertheless remains tenacious in its stability for fans and consumers. It’s an endurance that keeps burgeoning actors like UK martial artist and fan favorite, Scott Adkins, relevant long enough to see progress on more than one front in the last twenty years as he has been.
Indeed, twenty years is a long time for anyone to put their physicality and well-being through the blender to maintain peak screenfighting athleticism, and all while forseeing prospects in a field where the likes of celebrated crossover stars such as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, and the emerging crop of stunt and film talent from around the internet, have all brought to question the legitimacy of growing stunt professionals into principal stars.
This is not necessarily something that mainstream Hollywood is keen on when it comes to casting anyone in front of the camera, but that hasn’t stopped Adkins from trying. For that matter, it most certainly has not hampered efforts from filmmakers – specifically those with a history shared in stunt performance in some capacity, as Adkins’s resume would reveal most notably; Names like Yuen Woo-Ping and Isaac Florentine are as equally familiar these days as that of stuntman Jesse V. Johnson whose own stunt career dating back to Paul Verohoven’s smash hit, Total Recall, would eventually land him in the director’s chair for narrative titles as early as the turn of the century.
His 2005 thriller, Pit Fighter, would finally grant the Sutton Coldfield native a cameo appearance as the actor’s prospects maintained elsewhere with the aforementioned Florentine for the currently-running Undisputed DTV film franchise. Time would tell, however, just when exactly the two would pair up for a formidable film package that would eventually amalgamate just the right amount of meat and muscle for something to present to fans, and it was a sort of a do-or-die moment in Johnson’s own career following the critical success of his most recent noir crime thriller, The Beautiful Ones.
That film, Savage Dog, played pivotal to the very examination of Johnson’s path as a creative and fruitfully, it was also a huge cult hit for filmgoers and genre fans alike, thus paving the way in clear fashion for both fans, as well as our newfound star/director pairing in the months that followed Adkins’s sensational return to form in Boyka: Undisputed. Granted, their next endeavor was assuredly a timely one, particularly in an era of comic book film fandom and with a property that would easily sell to British audiences whilst having a lucrative star on its hands.
Accident Man, from Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, would turn out to be that very IP onto which Adkins and Johnson could proceed with their momentum and with a raft of cast and crew near-perfect and more than ready to take such an adaptation to task in an age of Blades, Deadpools and Logans. Additionally, the film, in its execution, also grants audiences a chance to exhibit Adkins in another British role after recent stardom in James Nunn’s Green Street Hooligans 3 and Eliminators – a fact worth noting as much of his career in the last decade has perpetuated his screen fame as someone with either a Russian or a patchy American accent.
Looking back on those roles in addition to his landmark entry in Florentine’s 2003 military actioner, Special Forces – home to some of the best martial arts fight scenery courtesy of Alpha Stunts’s own Noguchi Akihiro – inspired questioning just when Adkins would get to star in a film that wasn’t the proverbial “Boyka movie”. To name a few, Assassination Games was a fair play prior to Close Range and Hard Target 2 which all but tried and failed in that department, and far since the deafening calls to cast him as Batman in a WB/DC movie, Adkins’s shining moment in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, while entertaining, would tentatively be only that. As it is, the prospects that now follow Savage Dog with a film like Accident Man, for all intents and purposes, service an intelligent move on the part of Adkins and Johnson, and even more so toward the former who also wears a producer’s hat this time around.
Not for nothing either, given Johnson’s proof-of-concepts on Wonder Woman with actress Nina Bergman and Lobo showcasing martial arts star Jerry Trimble in costume, have all hinted at his keeness toward comic book titles as eager as he’s been to tackle such a project. Accident Man, fresh from the history of Britain’s comic book niche, proves a feasible opportunity for Johnson to achieve exactly this, as well as reunite with his other Savage Dog half to showcase some of the best-of-the-best they could achieve.
The overall treatment of the film even saw fit to have writer Stu Small joined by the film’s star to script the independently-produced incarnation – implicably another smart move in helping Adkins shape some his own lines as well as bodily and facial mannerisms for a more tethered delivery to his ever-improving craft as an actor. In the first three minutes or so, that’s the feeling you get when the film debuts Adkins’s portrayal of Mike Fallon, along with an air of comfort somehow knowing that our main actor is even more in his element than before. Smiling selfies with dead bodies and such.
Accident Man is only the latest in ensemble action cinema that rightly brings Adkins back in leading form for what feels like a proper post-Boyka vehicle from start-to-finish. The film introduces Adkins in the title role: a methodical assassin who works out of an outfit based at a London pub called The Oasis which is run by none other than Big Ray (Ray Stevenson), and houses the employment of a horde of seedy contract killers like the Axe-wielding Carnage Cliff (Ross O’Hennessy), Poison Pete (Stephen Donald), Mick and Mac (Michael Jai White and Ray Park), Jane The Ripper (Amy Johnston), and Finicky Fred (Perry Benson) with American import Milton (David Paymer) quarterbacking each hire from a darkly-lit backroom office.
The crux of the story starts in its first phase when Fallon is asked for another job amid one he is five-days in ahead of its completion. The plot thickens even further when he’s uncharacteristically phoned by Milton to pick up his doubled payment only to be met full-on with bullets by a motorcycle Triad.
Twisting the plot further is the tragic fate met by his ex-girlfriend, Beth (Brooke Johnston), followed by bitter greetings with Charlie (Ashley Greene), the woman Beth left him for, and a raft of stunning revelations and compelling reveals that implore Fallon to uncover the truth behind Beth’s murder and the people responsible, all while internally dealing with the rhetoricals and wanton feelings of not only missing the woman he loved, but the life he could have lived.
Small and Adkins craft a vehicle full of splendor and potential with Accident Man, an IP new to the fray of comic book movies and a provenly perfect platform to showcase. Worth pointing out is Adkins’s own dramatic performance whose own dramatic applications have shown to be a work in progress. Accident Man provides just the right amount of space for the actor where and when required to invoke a little more personality in his acting caliber apart from the usual brooding martial arts hero/anti-hero persona. He’s human. Oftentimes he’s an incorrigable dick who can’t take criticism and has to have the last word. For this, he’s also prone to jest and chastising as a result of his vulnerabilities and imperfections.
Similarly and as unorthodox as it appears, he does have a moral compass, and as the film progresses, the closer he gets to the truth, the more he understands why Beth was murdered and the more he is able to grow from his own entropic personality and fixations in order to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Serving as the backdrop to Fallon’s story arc are his colleagues, all of whom are intergral to the film’s progression. Each character is uniquely written with identifiable poise, color and energy with outstanding ferver – from O’Hennessy’s maniacal posture and Donald’s eldritch demenaor to Mick and Mac’s camaraderie as military bros, Jane’s lethal self-sustenance and, interestingly, Fred’s unassuming manner apart from his own inventiveness as a killer. Big Ray’s own personality is one without question: a man of authority, a shot caller and adding to the layered drama, a mentor to Fallon dating back to his teen years as a hapless paperboy who would find his calling as an elite killer. Paymer’s role of Milton, the bean counter who collects any and all info and data on targets from clients – as well as 15% percent of the finished hits, isn’t too dissimilar from what movie fans would remember in Jonathan Hensleigh’s Payback, but Paymer’s performance fills that position fittingly as the dislikeable punching bag that apparently no one is allowed to hit according to Big Ray’s chalked-in pub rules.
Johnson steers a healthy work-up in Accident Man that envisions raw talent for a balanced plateau of storytelling for a comic book property new to a demographic partly excluded from the U.K.. His is a vision that aspires on a constant basis, setting goals to reach beyond that of his creative limits with each project he works on. Far from the likes of indie fight dramas and other flailing projects in the early two-thousandsies, The Beautiful Ones – black and white with a vision crossed between Hitchcock and Steve McQueen, and Savage Dog – a meat-and-potatoes period pit fighting prison thriller that does for Adkins what Stallone does for Rambo, are especially visible checkpoints in this regard with Accident Man being the latest of the lot; an ode to what Guy Ritchie probably could have been if he directed independent martial arts movies – only without the festive pub drinking and backflipping and not as many oddball villains.
Johnson’s immersive engagement is also a plus when certain cinematic ornaments become noticeable. Adkins’s own narration throughout is the cog that steers the film from scene-to-scene with attention to detail attributed accordingly, and toward all aspects of Fallon’s own development; Duane McClunie’s cinematography aids this part of the process from simple shots of Fallon on his motorcycle to a brief fourth-wall jab at Carnage Cliff, to a mise-en-scène approach that immerses you in Fallon’s analysis of a crime scene.
Viewers sticking to their guns as fight fans won’t be disappointed; Next to the feats of stunt coordinator Dan Styles, co-star Tim Man serves up Accident Man with an intentional onslaught of hearty fight choreography to top the fan service as this, Man’s fourth outing with Adkins in five years. Action actress Amy Johnston segues from leading roles in Lady Bloodfight and Female Fight Squad to top-of-the-line in casting next to the likes of White, Park and Adkins, and with satisfactory results for fans who have remained fond of her work since spotting her online in a random fight demo from 2011 along with any number of the quality proof-of-concept projects she’s headlined since then, from Clandestine to Kellie Madison’s The Gate which remains pending.
Actor and martial artist Ray Park’s own attachment to the project was something of a surprise learned as fight choreography was underway with photos going viral on social media sites. Nowadays he’s become a mainstay of the geek community having made history with the role of Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, as well as in the role of Toad in the 2000 comic adaptation X-Men and as the silent-but-deadly Snake Eyes in Paramount Pictures’s G.I. Joe franchise. After debuting an unmasked role in the 2002 spy thriller, Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever, his unmasked persona has gone largely unnoticed with exception to certain niche audiences with respect to films like Hellbinders, King Of Fighters and the long-awaited release of 2014 thriller, Jinn among his credits. This underscores just how opportune his addition was to the project, and with an air of British crime comedy that stirs with ample vigor between himself and White as back-to-back assassins who feed off of each other’s societal maladjustments a little moreso than their killer cohorts.
Next to Adkins and Man, fans will get a kick out of the film’s consistent rematch fervor as Park joins in a two-on-one bout with White himself since Undisputed: Last Man Standing and in the French-produced sci-fi series, Metal Hurlant Chronicles. U.K. actor and bodybuilder Martyn Ford rebounds in action comedy fashion since his Nightmarish debut in Boyka: Undisputed IV.
There’s nothing too outstanding about the lensing of the fight action, while thankfully the work in filming our artists doesn’t bode as merely perfuctory. The camerawork is largely what you would see in some of Adkins’s previous films, save for a few more shakier and tighter shots while the care in filming the fight scenes as soundly as possible is made crystal clear. Fans will have some feats on their hands to sift through and judge as their favorite moments despite the few minor infractions – none of which minimize the kinetic delivery of Fallon’s cinematic debut.
With Triple Threat and The Debt Collector in tow, Accident Man won’t be the last anyone sees of Johnson and Adkins and the residual excitiment of observing their work together after Savage Dog.
Meanwhile, time and further reviews and analysis from fan and trade sites will observe just how the masses will receive Accident Man when Sony Pictures Home Entertainment rolls the movie out in February. Feasibly, history tells a tale of pre-emptive approval from fans who already love Adkins and can’t wait to see him a fifth, sixth and seventh Boyka movie, even as the threat of typecasting stands to hinder Adkins as he ventures onto other prospects. Then again, Accident Man could very well break the cycle, thus blazing the trail for the possible nourishment of a franchise…
Then again… that’s up to the fans too.
As for Johnson, take or give what you will here in any meausre while Accident Man ascends his trade to another level of noteworthy and simply awesome. His penchant for versatility rewards him – as it rightly should, and in kind, his viewers, and with respect to a fanbase in support of a cult action star who, with Accident Man, gets a winning starring vehicle with a milestone role he can call his own.