While former Strikeforce star Gina Carano continues to tease MMA fans with rumors of a comeback fight for the UFC Women’s Title against the seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey, her acting career is only getting stronger with the release of In the Blood. Punching and kicking its way into theaters, On Demand, and iTunes today, In the Blood won’t be the first, second or even 70th movie mentioned in next year’s Oscar race, but in my long, documented history of endorsing mindlessly fun action movies for the sake of pure enjoyment, you might not find a better ass-kicking good time than In the Blood this month. It’s basically a Caribbean version of Taken, except this one stars She-am Neeson. Or Liam Sheeson. Whichever terrible pun you prefer.
Carano stars as Ava, and right from the start we’re told that she comes from a dangerous and mysterious background. We watch masked men shoot her father in cold blood, but only before she reveals that she’s not the type that’s gonna cry watching daddy take a few bullets. Instead, she takes matters and a shotgun into her own hands and finishes the men who finished her dad. That story is quickly told while Ava is preparing to marry Derek Grant, a recovering junkie played by… sigh… Cam Gigandet. While Ava comes from unknown but obviously frightening origins, Derek comes from money, and his father (played by the always wonderful Treat Williams) doesn’t approve of this at all. “She just wants your money!” he sort of implies before Derek tears up the prenup and declares that he loves her no matter what, because she saved him from addiction.
Without further elaboration, Derek and Ava are off to the Caribbean for their honeymoon, where everything that they do involves a GoPro camera and selfies. That’s what you do when you’re in love, you take lots and lots of selfies of smooching and snuggling, because who’s my Shmoopie? YOU’RE MY SHMOOPIE! You also apparently trust the “kindness” of locals who are clearly hitting on your new wife at restaurants, because why just do the same old tourist stuff when you can head to a nightclub with the locals and immediately kick a gigantic f*cking hornet’s nest?
Directed by John Stockwell, who is probably best known as Cougar in Top Gun but has gone on to make a strong name for himself in directing movies that you probably haven’t heard of, In the Blood is a little slow getting into the action, but it’s pretty quick when it comes to painting a picture of a woman who just can’t get anything to work in her favor. By trusting Manny, the local who wants to get into her pants, and without even asking his last name, Ava and Derek head to a nightclub that also happens to be the hangout of choice of a mean hombre named Big Biz, played by FilmDrunk’s favorite 69-year old badass, Danny Trejo.
Big Biz immediately takes a liking to Ava and he wants to party with her the old-fashioned way, by telling her that her husband is a loser and how she should get with a real man. It’s a tactic that fails regularly in both action movies and Miami Beach nightclubs, and when it fails for Big Biz, it turns into a massive brawl, in which only Ava can protect her husband from the locals. After escaping, Derek only asks Ava once about how she was suddenly able to kick the crap out of a bunch of men and women in a club, but I guess very little matters when you’re running for your life. Despite the fact that hanging out with Manny almost got them killed once, Ava and Derek decide to go zip-lining with him the very next morning, even though the one thing Ava is afraid of is heights.
Once Ava shows some hesitation to take a ride down the very aptly-named “Widowmaker,” Derek proceeds without her and, wouldn’t you know it? His zip-line snaps and Manny fails to rescue him, if he was even trying to at all. After a frantic and strangely quick run, Ava helps paramedics load Derek into an ambulance, but they won’t let Ava ride with them. “Something about insurance,” she later explains to his father and a police chief, played by Greendale’s finest, Luis Guzman, after Derek has suddenly vanished. A fight with the police, a jump from a boat, and a long swim back to the island later, Ava decides that it’s time to use everything that her father taught her – conveniently shown to us by Stockwell in well-placed flashbacks to intense training sessions – to find Derek and get revenge on the people she thinks were involved with his disappearance.
When it comes to the plot of In the Blood, written by James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin, there are plenty of questions. Why do Ava and Derek trust Manny in the first place? Why do they trust him a second time? Why, after all of this sh*t goes bad, does Ava trust Manny enough to sleep at his place and let him help her find Derek? Why does she allow herself to get arrested during her vengeance spree so she can be charged for murder? Why doesn’t the police chief just shoot Ava when he’s handing her the gun? I guess the answer to all of that could be that they’re stupid and she’s desperate, but we’re supposed to assume that Ava’s as smart as she is talented and ruthless. So I guess I’ll reach into my bag of excuses and chalk this one up to suspended disbelief.
Ava’s ensuing rampage is equal parts Taken, Commando, Man on Fire, and everything that Cynthia Rothrock ever kicked ass in during the 1980s. And while Carano’s acting has never been of the highest caliber, she still shows the same emotionless grittiness that she used to make Haywire such a fun film. Granted, Stockwell is hardly Steven Soderbergh, and Gigandet, Trejo and the rest of the cast of In the Blood are hardly Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, but that’s like comparing haymakers and armbars.
What In the Blood ultimately relies on, from the nightclub melee to the grand, ambitious, somewhat awkward and mostly hilarious conclusion, is a combination of action movie clichés (the dislocated body part trick had me cracking up) and how artistically Carano pulls off her fighting moves. There are a lot actors who suck at fake fighting and fighters who suck at acting, but Carano is the unicorn of averageness, the rare creature who does both of those things well enough to make a decent movie very entertaining. She’s also really, really pretty. That always helps. Additionally, movies like this are sometimes dragged down by an over-the-top, annoyingly and obnoxiously terrible villain, but Amaury Nolasco deserves some credit for playing it straight and even providing some laughs during the otherwise hectic finale.
In the Blood isn’t as pretty and clean as Taken, and it’s not as bloody and senseless as Commando. Hell, it leaves more questions than Ava does bodies. But for what it is and what we expect from a movie like this, it really is charmingly creative with how it presents a story that tries to be bigger than girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl loses boy in zip-lining accident, and girl kicks the asses of everyone else she meets to get him back. It’s dumb, ridiculous, sometimes even preposterous, and I loved almost* every second of it.
Final Grade: B-
*The part I didn’t like? Sigh. Cam Gigandet.
(Images via Anchor Bay/Freestyle Releasing)