If you follow Michael Jai White on Instagram then you’ve undoubtedly seen his wife Gillian kicking ass on his and her own profile. An actor in her own right, White has appeared everywhere from LL Cool J music videos to popping up in a Tarantino movie to a guest stint on “Days of Our Lives”. Unlike her husband, she hasn’t had a chance to headline her own action flick despite very clearly having the goods both as an actor and martial artist. At least until now.
Take Back follows Zara, an attorney played by Gillian White, who lives with husband Brian (Jai White) and step daughter Audrey (Priscilla Walker). Zara finds her idyllic small-town life thrown into disarray after foiling a disturbance at a local coffee shop. After footage of her heroics are leaked to the news she finds herself in the crosshairs of a figure from her mysterious past (Mickey Rourke). After he and his goons kidnap Audrey, Zara is forced to reveal some hard truths to Brian as she sets off to save her daughter.
On paper, a Taken meets A History of Violence revenge thriller is tremendously exciting. Add in the fact that Gillian White is finally getting the opportunity to display her own formidable action prowess and you have the makings of something exciting. Unfortunately, director Christian Sesma and co-star Mickey Rourke let her down at every turn. On the Sesma front, Take Back is an ugly, meandering mess. Taking far too long to get to its point, it struggles to maintain any momentum. Cut together seemingly at random, our main focus is too frequently pulled away to Rourke’s villain Patrick. It’s not that Rourke isn’t trying, it’s that it’s unclear whether he knows he’s even in a film. When he’s not grunting out monosyllabic answers to our hero, he’s going on diatribes that have nothing to do with what the person talking to him said. There are a few moments where it genuinely appears that Rourke forgot the camera was on and just started talking about something that happened to him once. Sometimes the film will cut to him staring off into space and then hold on that for what feels like twenty minutes cutting only to the half naked women he’s kidnapped. One’s left to wonder what Sesma finds compelling about any of this. It’s a lifelessly bizarre performance.
It’s not only an embarrassment to the film but an insult to White who’s clearly putting in the work to make this thing move. The choreography is a ton of fun and White is a terrific fighter. While Sesma and DP Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein don’t exactly shoot it well, White’s movement is pretty incredible. One fight in her kitchen involving a pizza cutter is a particular jolt of ingenuity in a film in desperate need of it. She oozes charisma and it’s a blast seeing her take charge here, especially with real life husband Michael as onscreen husband/sidekick. MJW is a tried and true star in the action and martial arts world so seeing him play a guy in so clearly over his head compared to his wife is a fun juxtaposition. Too often we’ve seen real life couples translate terribly onscreen but the Whites have chemistry for days and are a frequent lifeline in an otherwise aimless film. In Gillian’s first go at lead she makes a strong case that this should only continue moving forward. Hopefully with someone better behind the camera.
If you’re a Michael Jai White completist or want to see Gillian White’s arrival as a new name in DTV then perhaps you’ll find some level of enjoyment in Take Back. Otherwise, this is yet another revenge thriller too interested in ogling women being victimized that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. A strong performance from Gillian White and a fun turn from MJW barely hold this together. It’s a frustratingly dead-on-arrival effort and another entry into Mickey Rourke’s distressingly abysmal late period. An absolute shame.
Take Back premieres on VOD, digital and in select cinemas on June 18, 2021 from Shout! Studios. Click here to snag the film on Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory.