There’s been no shortage of lamentation here at InRO about how the contemporary Hollywood studio system has mostly abandoned mid-range, mid-budget action movies in favor of gargantuan superhero IP. The recent success of John Wick 4 notwithstanding, there’s been a spate of action films dropping on streaming services to increasingly dire results. Junk like Red Notice, The Gray Man, and Ghosted might as well be A.I.-generated screensavers; they are barely able to get their ostensible stars into the same frame at the same time without blue screen trickery and CGI assistance. Thankfully, we’ve still got Jesse V. Johnson turning out good-to-great ass-kickers with some regularity. Hot on the heels of Hell Hath No Fury (one of the director’s best) and White Elephant (unfortunately, one of his weakest) comes the western-tinged One Ranger. We’re pleased to report that this one’s a winner.
Beginning with the famous “one riot, one ranger” quote, Johnson wastes no time getting into the meat of his (admittedly overly complicated) narrative. Tough, taciturn Texas Ranger Alex Tyree (Thomas Jane) is introduced on horseback, sauntering through the desert while tracking down a fugitive. He finds his man, but is distracted by a call from dispatch; it seems a crew of heavily-armed men have robbed a bank, killing some police officers in the process, and now hightailing it through the desert to Mexico. Tyree catches up to them, dispatching a few in the process with his sharpshooting skills, but the ringleader gets away. Soon enough, British Intelligence officer Jennifer Smith (Dominque Tipper) is knocking on the Ranger’s door. It seems the escaped man is a former IRA member named Declan McBride (Dean Jagger), now graduated from self-described freedom fighter to freelance terrorist and wanted in the UK on numerous charges. After a first run-in with Tyree, he’s been captured across the border, and the Brits need our Ranger to convince the Mexican authorities to release McBride to them. A series of convoluted encounters proceed from here, as McBride escapes yet again, killing Tyree’s partner in the process, at which point he and Smith team up and disembark to London in an effort to stop an impending dirty bomb attack. Johnson pays some lip service to the ludicrous mechanics required to get our old-school cowboy into jolly old England, including some outlandish notions of international jurisdiction, but ultimately this is still an action movie. And Johnson, of course, delivers the goods, with a series of close-quarter shootouts and brutal hand-to-hand fights that put any of One Ranger’s recent, bigger-budgeted counterparts to shame.
Admittedly, the plot starts to drag pretty quickly, particularly when John Malkovich (now a bonafide staple in the DTV genre) briefly appears as a surly Agency Head to yell at Tyree and Smith. Malkovich might be phoning it in — he’s been in ten of these things since 2021 — but at least everyone else seems to be having a blast. Jane and Tipper have great chemistry, honed via several seasons of working together on the sci-fi adventure show The Expanse; Tipper brings the same flinty toughness from that character to Agent Smith, while Jane quietly chews the scenery, simultaneously channeling Nick Nolte’s character from Extreme Prejudice and Foghorn Leghorn. It borders on the absurd, frankly, but he sells it well. That said, Jane is no Scott Adkins, so Johnson smartly emphasizes punching and blocking instead of the more acrobatic combat found in prior JVJ films like Avengement and The Debt Collectors. The real scene-stealer here is French MMA fighter Jess Liaudin, as McBride’s main henchman, Oleg. He towers over Jane, and their increasingly violent encounters involve guns, knives, and bodies hurling through glass, furniture, and walls. Johnson leverages Liaudin’s hulking physicality to delightfully destructive ends, as well as a kind of running joke in which, no matter how much damage Liaudin takes, he keeps popping back up, ready for more. Cinematographer Simon Rowling lends everything a slick sheen, while editor Matthew Lorentz keeps the action clean and legible. Johnson is an old hand at this kind of straightforward genre fare — and while One Ranger is no masterpiece, the director does manage to punch things up by weaving in his clear affection for classic Western iconography, resulting in a film that serves as a reminder of good old-fashioned fisticuffs and the power of real bodies performing real stunts. Here’s hoping he keeps churning these out.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 18.