Film Review: I Am Vengeance

Stu Bennett, aka Wade Barrett, is the latest WWE wrestler seeking to jump-start a career as an action star, but he needs a better vehicle than this low-budget, run-of-the-mill revenge flick.
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Taking a cue perhaps from the 2016 programmer Eliminators, where Stu Bennett (appearing under his wrestling name Wade Barrett) played the heavy against Scott Adkins, the formulaic I Am Vengeance might satisfy fans of low-budget, British-based action films. But it won’t quite break Bennett out to become a name action star. The hulking 6’6” British bare-knuckle boxer gets his first leading role as a “one-man war machine” here, and it is, lamentably, inauspicious.

However fit (physically or career-wise) Bennett is for an action role, the material here only rarely plays to his strengths. It is disappointing that there are only a handful of fight scenes in I Am Vengeance, and at least half of them feature Bennett’s character, John Gold, using a gun (or other weapons), rather than his fists. If the point of having Bennett onscreen is for him to kick some ass, his impressive muscles should be rippling as he dispatches the bad guys in creative ways. There is some of that kind of action on display in I Am Vengeance, but Bennett appears shirtless maybe twice—once for a gratuitous shower scene, and once after being taped up from a chest wound. A scene of him taking out four men sent to kill him features a few nifty deaths by axe, crossbow and more, but this episode is both telegraphed and over too quickly.

The plot of I Am Vengeance has Daniel Mason (Kevin Leslie) being chased, captured and killed by Hatcher (Gary Daniels) and his crew, Barnes (Fleur Keith), Marshall (Bryan Larkin), Stockwell (Wayne Gordon) and Lambert (Alan Calton). In addition, Mason’s parents Dougie (Keith Allen) and Ettie (Katharina Kubrick) have also been murdered, but not before Dougie records an incriminating tape.

The Masons’ deaths prompt John Gold to arrive in the sleepy town of Devotion—where the cops are no help—to find the killers and mete out justice. Or, as John’s character says in the film, “I’m going to take down the bastards that did this—every one of them—but you knew that already.” What viewers don’t know is that they have to wait nearly an hour for the action scenes to arrive. John’s character may be relentless, but the film is not.

In the meantime, John enters the local pub and causes a scene looking to find the Masons’ killers. He almost has a showdown with Marshall, but I Am Vengeance delays that bout for the last reel. Instead, John connects with Sandra (Anna Shaffer), a chatty barmaid and junkie who takes him to Hatcher’s local drug factory. The film provides a sight gag of sorts with Bennett’s John literally head and shoulders taller than Shaffer’s Anna (as well as most of the film’s other characters), and she mainly plays the comic relief. There’s no flirting here; John chats up local café owner Rose (Sapphire Elia), but there is no real romance. Bennett may not be ready for a love scene, but then again, John is all business here, and eventually I Am Vengeance finally gets down to it.

There’s a decent scene in the drug factory where John puts a gun to Lambert’s head wanting information and threatens him thusly: “I’m going to decorate this place in the delicate shade of your skull and brains.” It’s a great line, drolly delivered, and Bennett could use a few more of those moments to cement his appeal. Moreover, Alan Calton, who has a real screen presence, should have been given more to do; his Lambert shows promise of being a strong adversary, but he barely gets an opportunity to shine. Instead, I Am Vengeance seems hell-bent on getting John to fight mano a mano with Marshall and Hatcher, and when they do “dance,” the film delivers some genuine excitement and even tension. And the sound design (by Alexej Mungersdoff) is working overtime, so viewers will really hear—if not feel—every bone-crunching punch.

I Am Vengeance showcases Bennett playing tough and taciturn, but he nevertheless comes off a bit stiff. He has potential, but Bennett is going to need to try a little harder to have a career on par with his Eliminators co-star Adkins.