If you stick around in Hollywood long enough, keep in shape, log a solid amount of credits and act the part of a good soldier, maybe you, too, will receive your own starring vehicle. Of course, there’s no guarantee that vehicle will be in any way interesting, but consider it the show-business version of a gold watch, the example of a career spent punching the clock. For Craig Fairbrass, that moment comes with “The Outsider,” his very own leading part in an action picture alongside a pretty girl and decorated co-stars. Fairbrass, a lifer who has played heroes and henchmen alike, looks just as surprised as you.
Fairbrass plays Lex Walker, a black ops veteran stationed in the Middle East who learns of his daughter’s passing back in Los Angeles. When his commanding officer informs him he can’t go stateside to identify the body, Walker barks a stern “Fuck you and yours!” Upon arrival, however, he learns that the body is not his daughter’s. Seeking answers, Walker locates his daughter’s phone, dialing up one of the final numbers she called. This takes Walker to an office building that presents a service which doesn’t exist, fronted by a shady executive, Karl Schuster (James Caan), who doesn’t know anything. It’s only when Schuster’s goons put their hands on Walker that we realize what kind of film this is going to be: yep, Walker’s going to Liam Neeson everyone in his path to find his beloved offspring.
Walker follows a series of clues, some inexplicably left under-explored by the LAPD. Right on his trail is Detective Klein (Jason Patric), one of those skeptical movie cops who specializes in arriving at the scene of a violent altercation just moments after the hero, standing arms akimbo over a corpse and wondering what the endgame is. Patric adds stubble and an eye-rolling sarcasm to a part that rankles, simply because this guy used to be above these types of films. At least James Caan gets to be typically oily and uncomfortably physical. Shannon Elizabeth is here, too, as Margo, a girl who inadvertently tags along with Walker on his adventure and, in one humiliating moment, is forced to go undercover as a call girl. When she asks why, the other characters explain it is the “only way” for the crew to get into Schuster’s home. O, ye of little imagination.
Fairbrass was previously a bit actor who had voiced several “Call of Duty” games among other on-screen credits. His appeal seems to stem from the fact that no one’s done an action film where the hero looks like one of your dad’s friends—stocky, but in great shape; lumbering, but not fast. With a face that is less attractive or ugly, merely “simple,” Fairbrass ranks low on the wattage scale. There’s a blue-collar thrill from seeing him throw down with others, as he doesn’t have the martial arts skill to compensate for an advanced age. He seems stitched together from the less-attractive attributes of other action heroes and villains: Statham’s head, Willis’ shoulders, Steve Austin’s brutishness. This guy should have starred in “I, Frankenstein.”
The action is shot with maximum coverage to ensure, for several cuts, ostensibly hiding that Fairbrass isn’t the most accomplished brawler. It also helps that Schuster, amusingly, keeps his staff manned by a group of guys you’d see at a suburban barbecue, cradling a beer instead of a snub-nosed. The budget particularly falters during a dull final shootout, with obvious special effects-lights emerging from characters’ guns. If “The Outsider” were filmed sequentially, then the dying confidence in the film’s premise (which later involves a transition into cyber-thriller territory) would entirely make sense.
Writer/director Brian A. Miller keeps things moving at a clipped pace, a workable skill for a direct-to-DVD helmer (even if this film is in theatrical release this weekend, it seems better suited for home consumption). But ultimately, the seams show, and the film’s dismal action staging and over-complex story can’t seem to overcome Mr. Fairbrass’s lo-fi presence. At times, “The Outsider” resembles the types of amateur movies we’ll be watching in the future—shoddy simulations of genres we like, with either us or a similarly charisma-less family member edited into a film as the lead alongside professional actors. You’ll be able to keep the DVD and show your friends that yes, on that one day, you threw a punch and all those bad guys fell. It’ll be a lot like “The Outsider.” [D+]