Ida Red is wholly derivative and overstuffed with subplots, but also delivers a lot of grimy, gonzo actioner fun.
Writer-director John Swab has a few C-level crime thrillers under his belt, with titles as generic as the content found within them, none of which need mentioned because you won’t know them anyway. Okay, fine: Run with the Hunted. You get it. His latest venture, Ida Red, clears the low bar of being by far his most accomplished effort to date, boasting a cast that practically screams, “Oh hey, I vaguely recognize that person!” and catapulting the filmmaker into the B-level big leagues. Josh Hartnett — Mr. turn of the millennium, himself — stars as Wyatt Walker, a mid-level criminal in Tulsa, Oklahoma who engages in various burglaries and heists when he isn’t visiting his mom, the titular Ida (Melissa Leo), in prison. As it happens, Ida was quite the lawbreaking bigwig back in her day, affording Wyatt a level of respect in the criminal underworld — and constant surveillance by local police, especially after a highway heist gone horribly awry that opens the film. Wyatt is aided in his larceny by his trigger-happy uncle, Dallas (Frank Grillo), and has a troubled relationship with his sister, Jeanie (Deborah Ann Woll). There’s also a rebellious niece and a brother-in-law cop, because this film has roughly three subplots too many, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that Ida is on death’s door and desperate for her upcoming parole hearing to work in her favor. All this of course leads to “one final job” that will allow everyone involved to retire into the lap of luxury, but the scheme obviously doesn’t go as planned.
There’s not a single plot beat in Ida Red that viewers won’t have seen before, and done better at that. But in spite of a script that is wholly derivative at every turn, there’s something actually compelling about the gonzo sum package, even its clichés becoming almost comforting after a while. Swab knows how to keep the action moving at a brisk pace, even as various side characters threaten to derail the flow at any given moment. His style isn’t exactly original, but it lends itself to a couple of inspired choices, including the use of ridiculously arch transitional wipes that take on the shape of everything from venetian blinds to the crosshairs of a gun. The propulsive synth score, courtesy of David Sardy, does a lot of the heavy lifting here, and while it’s reminiscent of a dozen others of its particular ilk, there’s no denying its effective use. There are also a few ironic needle drops here and there, including a suicide set to Madonna’s “Crazy For You,” although nothing can top the sight of Grillo, festooned in a cowboy hat and a mesh black t-shirt, singing and dancing to Naked Eyes’ “Promises, Promises” as he humiliates a young woman he is about to murder. The cast is uniformly good, oozing grime and toxic machismo as they engage in what basically amounts to a prolonged dick-measuring contest, with perennial man’s man William Forsythe even popping up for good measure as a gum-chomping FBI agent. It all leads to a final shoot-out that plays like a poor man’s Heat, replete with CGI blood spraying the screen in bright red torrents; that Swab doesn’t embarrass himself in this comparison should say plenty about the film’s own low-brow delights. Nobody is going to mistake Ida Red for some genre classic — there are dozens of better, similar works clogging streaming services as we speak, including the majority of Scott Adkins’ filmography — but for a few cheap thrills delivered with something approximating panache, you could do a lot worse. If Swab keeps this up, he’s going to be working with Gerard Butler in no time.