Under the Radar

Lost in the Desert With 'Swelter'



Swelter sounded like a great idea: Vegas casino heist goes wrong, everyone goes to prison except for the guy who gets shot in the head, gang gets out of prison and reunites to track down the guy they believe still has the money. Except he doesn't remember anything because of that headshot and now he's the sheriff in a small desert town.


Sounds like a great cross between a film noir, gangster movie and a western, right? That's probably the pitch they made to their international cast that features a Belgian (Jean Claude Van Damme), two Brits (Lennie James and Alfred Molina), an New Zealander (Grant Bowler), an Oscar-nominated Colombian (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an Italian (Daniele Favilli) and a token real American (Josh Henderson, on loan from Dallas).


JCVD is the biggest figure on the box, but he's decidedly a secondary character in the movie and he's one of the first members of the crew to go in the bloodbath. (That shouldn't count as a spoiler. Since when does almost everyone not die in a move like this?)


It's really about Grant Bowler (know for the Defiance TV series) and Lennie James (who was great in the AMC series Low Winter Sun that seemingly no one but me watched). They're both having a great time playing Americans and their characters both love the same woman.

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There's a lot of shooting and James struggles to sell the whole amnesia thing. The missing $10 million eventually turns up but, by that point, there's not really many folks around to enjoy spending it.

I'll admit to some pretty low standards with action movies and this one managed to test my patience. Maybe it's a sign of European movie investors' faith in the USA, but no one in this incredibly white remote town seems to have hesitated when they elected an African American drifter with a vague backstory to be their sheriff and clean up the town.

All the robbers wear Rat Pack rubber masks in the flashback casino heist and someone's made the effort to make the desert vistas look appropriately vast. Unfortunately, JCVD's frozen face makes Sly and Arnold's botox look natural by comparison.

Swelter is not boring (even though Molina seems personally bored as he sleepwalks through his handful of scenes), but it doesn't make much sense either. This is probably not the JCVD comeback picture you're looking for.


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