Every action movie requires momentum and Fred Cavayé's "Point Blank" has plenty to spare. The French director's second feature after "Anything for Her," Cavayé only sporadically pauses to recharge and enlivens individual scenes with the spastic energy of a theme park ride. An impressive feat that relies on distraction rather than fancy effects, "Point Blank" makes it easy to get swept up and forget that it's a very sweaty retread that's been done many times before.
While "Anything for Her" was remade by Paul Haggis as the equally fast-paced "The Next Three Days" in 2010, "Point Blank" (no relation to the 1967 John Boorman movie, itself remade as "Payback") requires no remake to take on an American feel. It already embraces the breathless techniques that were elevated to an art form in the "Bourne" franchise.
"Point Blank" begins with an abrupt staircase chase that ends a few seconds later, when a bleeding man on the lam named Sartet (Roschdy Zem) gets nailed by a passing vehicle, attracting too much attention for his pursuers to finish him off. Despite appearances to the contrary, Sartet is merely the MacGuffin whose wanted-man status sets the plot in motion; the real hero is Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), a nurse in the hospital where Sartet winds up in a coma.
When Samuel inadvertently stops an assassin's attempt to kill off Sartet before he wakes up, another masked man kidnaps Samuel's pregnant wife, tasking him with removing Sartet from the hospital in order to bring the woman and her unborn child to safety. Appropriately transformed into a super-husband, the previously tender Samuel plays along with amazingly smooth results, nimbly knocking out a police officer and wheeling the sleeping Sartet out of the hospital -- until he inadvertently wakes up.
From there, the plot grows more complex as details reveal themselves surrounding the nature of Sartet's illegal activities and the men who want him dead. At its core, however, this familiar tale of cops and robbers (or, more specifically, corrupt cops and vengeful robbers) sets the stage for a fairly unimaginative buddy movie. Once Samuel makes it clear that he's serious about getting his wife back, Sartet brings him along for the ride and the bodies start piling up. This is mainly an excuse for Cavayé to follow the two men and the various people who want them dead as they run in sync with a thundering soundtrack and restless camerawork.
An action director could have worse intentions. Cavayé knows his genre well, adhering to the time limit (Samuel has a day to rescue his wife and clear his name) and piling up as many split-second maneuvers as he can fit into the mercifully trim 84-minute running time. The constant speed, however, has a deadening effect when Cavayé fails to give it much purpose. By comparison, the near-cartoonish reality of the two brilliant "Crank" movies actually make their rapid maneuvering a part of the narrative DNA; "Point Blank" operates with breakneck velocity but few ideas to back it up. Cavayé knows how to keep things moving, but for his next effort he may want to consider taking a breath. Maybe several.
criticWIRE grade: B-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? The action-heavy trailer may help the movie gain some credence among genre fans in limited release, but it's mainly set to play well on VOD courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.