Screener Review: THE LIBERATOR (2016)

A small string of shortfilms into his young movie career, actor and director Ben Lettieri is on track to arrive this summer with his latest feature length debut, The Liberator. Boasting a martial arts-infused adventure, the film does have a little bit going for itself with its low-budget status and an adherence to a specific niche. Alas, it deserves a curve of sorts, but a small one.

Lettieri stars as Ben Silver, a former soldier and uniquely young, decorated war hero, now a private investigator who operates by his own morals and principles, paid or not, thus earning him his eponymous title through word of mouth. His is a reputation that has earned him infamy in the criminal underworld, specifically for London crimeboss Harry Miller, eager to make a profit off of a priceless Ming Dynasty vase he successfully steals from its owner, ex-con and museum curator Melinda Page. She turns to Silver for its retrieval and in the course of the mission, Silver runs into the usual horde of baddies and thugs, though this time with a twist in the form of Rolf, former fellow comrade-turned-rival. Outnumbered and outpaced, Silver’s new gig is one that will require more fists and kicks than he can dole out by himself.

The film thrives largely on Lettieri as a leading man a la baby-faced Transporter…that is, without the cockney accent or Statham-esque brooding, the swank Audi or matching suits. There’s also a great deal of comedy offered with some notable wit and tongue-in-cheek sexual overtones, as well as lots of action and some interesting plot points that help carry the film through to some extent. Seasoned thesp, actor Keith Chanter serves as a memorable anchor for the film in the role of Silver’s elder and mentor, Nigel. Co-star Jemelin Artigas enters the film’s first act midway in the supporting role of Silver’s girlfriend, Tanya, and she does amply well for the limited screentime she gets before making room for Bayly’s Page to stake her claim as Silver’s new love interest.

With all these and above in mind though, it’s hard to fully ignore the many places where the film falls flat, which, ironically, includes Lettieri when it comes to his overall delivery as an action film star. The first fight scene takes place in the film’s opening sequence at a strip club with Silver effortlessly taking out a handful of thugs waiting to get hit in the face…that is if that’s your thing. Essentially, that is also the effect you get when you end up with a fight scene that looks more rehearsed than natural on screen, and unfortunately, save for some of Lettieri’s other, maybe better moments, it becomes more and more ominous in later scenes where it counts. Richard Ellegard stars as Rolf, Silver’s nemesis of yesteryear who uses his employ under Miller as an advantage to take out Silver once and for all. Straightaway, I expected better from a seemingly imposing villain while left with two fights between both characters, and none of which were better than the other with stiffly-performed techniques and performances characteristic of actors entirely new to the field. Dan Cobb lends some ample action to his screentime in the role of Detective Stevens who assists Silver on his own accord, while most of the film’s better fight scenery goes to the role of Keung, played by co-star Martin Wan – a martial artist and astute UK stuntman homegrown at Leeds-based film and stunt group, SG Action who lay out the floor plan for much of the film’s bigger scenes.

Serviceable acting and fun action aside, much of The Liberator is a test of one’s patience. From start to finish, we have a story that isn’t afraid to show skin and get shameless in its caricaturing from time to time, especially with co-star Daniel Jordan on hand as Miller, an eccentric and over-the-top villain who does manage to carry the film through its lampooning on his end. The script meanders between trying to identify Lettieri as an action hero and fumbling a few times in some of the dialogue, often doing a disservice to the film’s tagline which is “Less Talk…More Action.” – a theme that noticably recurs a few times in the first act, and it’s not until the remainng twenty minutes or so that you finally get a sense of urgency and imminent danger to fully engage your viewership.

To be frank, I like that Lettieri is doing something to contribute to the genre, and I’m personally pleased with some of the talent he’s brought aboard. For all this and more, The Liberator surely grants at least one viewing for anybody curious to see what he has to offer to fans and moviegoers. It’s a film that can be appreciated for its efforts if you love the action genre in general and by the finale, at best, you can thank yourself for sticking it out as long as you have, and possibly with a keg of beer in the room. Beyond that, Lettieri has a really long way to go before he can hold a candle to other independent productions of better caliber.