Section 8 is a serviceable VOD actioner, but one devoid of anything to set it apart.
We here at InRO consider ourselves fans, connoisseurs even, of the VOD action flick, an increasingly visible sub-genre of low- and medium-budget movies that have proliferated at a stunning rate as streaming services and international co-funding entities (i.e. tax shelters) look to bulk up their libraries and make a quick buck. But as we’ve mentioned before, this sometimes requires grading on a curve of sorts. While the action might be accomplished enough, frequently you’re losing something in plotting or writing or acting skill. No matter; these things are hardly a deal breaker if one is in the mood for the kind of gnarly fist-fights and bloody shootouts that Hollywood largely shuns these days. Into this crowded field comes Section 8, a reasonably diverting action-revenge-thriller that tidily highlights both the virtues and limitations of the medium.
The film kicks off with a brief prologue in the Middle East, in which cocky soldier Jake Atherton (Ryan Kwanten) accidentally gets his squad killed in an ambush after disobeying an order from his commanding officer, Colonel Tom Mason (Dolph Lundgren). Fast forward several months and Atherton is back stateside, working as a mechanic for his Uncle Earl (a typically bizarre Mickey Rourke, who somehow always gives the impression of adlibbing his dialogue while staring off into space). Atherton is barely making ends meet, and the bills are piling up at home. But he’s got a devoted wife and an adorable young son, and he’s determined to take care of them. After some local gangbangers beat up Earl while attempting to extort him for protection money, Atherton kicks the hell out of them and sends them on their way. The gang leader makes some threats, and soon enough Atherton returns home to find his wife and kid dead. Tracking the gang leader down to a local strip club, Atherton shoots the place up, kills the entire gang, and then gives himself up to the authorities. He’s got nothing left to live for, and doesn’t care about spending the rest of his life in prison.
Enter Sam Ramsey (Dermot Mulroney), a mysterious man who runs a shadow government agency that recruits certain skilled but troubled individuals like Atherton. They’ll get him out of prison, give him a new identity, and put him to work. All he has to do is kill whoever Ramsey tells him to, no questions asked. If you think this sounds a lot like the recent Netflix wannabe blockbuster The Gray Man, you’re not wrong. But director Christian Sesma careens through plot at a dizzying pace, packing all of the above incident into less than a third of the film’s relatively brief 95 minutes. It’s all very brisk, but none of it really lands, unfortunately. Kwanten is quite compelling in the lead, bringing a weary desperation to the role, but he’s not really a credible fighter. Lundgren and Rourke are reliable old pros who can deliver these kinds of brief appearances in their sleep, but it’s the other members of this clandestine black ops group that really sink things; they are uniformly bad, stilted and awkward in front of the camera. Meanwhile, Mulroney is hamming it up, stopping just short of twirling his mustache and declaring himself the villain.
Still, all would be forgiven if the action was top notch, but instead it’s merely serviceable. Early scenes set in the generic war zone appear to be blatantly riffing on The Hurt Locker, while a nighttime shootout is patterned almost exactly after the climactic action sequence in Mann’s Miami Vice. A case of a young director calling their shot, or pure hubris? Possibly a bit of both. Section 8 does contain one grace note, a small role for the king of DTV, Scott Adkins. Playing an assassin who Ramsey calls in for particularly tough assignments (although it’s never made clear why an organization comprised entirely of ass-kicking ex-soldiers would need to occasionally outsource), Adkins pops up periodically to thrilling effect. He commands the screen, all charisma and graceful physicality. It’s a reminder that there’s no doubt Section 8 would be immediately improved if Adkins was the lead; as it stands, he gets to shoot some guns and then has an excellent final fight with Kwanten. It results in a mixed bag overall, and sometimes the seams really show on what was presumably a quick production, but fans of the genre could do worse, and have certainly done so. Tiny victories.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — October 2022.