At one point, Mel Gibson was supposed to cameo in “The Hangover Part II” as a tattoo artist, but his tarnished reputation quickly proved that he couldn’t play for jokes. In “Blood Father,” Gibson finally lands that role under different circumstances. As a rugged ex-alcoholic who drops his needle to zoom through the desert on a motorbike — taking down hordes of bad guys to protect his daughter — Gibson inherits a less-than-desirable mantle from the likes of Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris. The punishment for his sins is a cinematic purgatory of mediocre genre fare
It’s not the worst fate, but certainly a step down in terms of quality and innovation. Having anchored the 2012 shoot-’em-up “Get the Gringo” and delivered bit parts in “Machete Kills” and “Expendables 3,” Gibson now solidifies his new stature as a B-movie star, fated to anchor discardable material readymade for the bottom-of-the-barrel VOD treatment.
By no means a great piece of filmmaking, “Blood Father” nevertheless recaptures some of the rough attitude of Gibson’s “Mad Max” days, as he shoots, growls and head-butts through a routine tale of angry drug lords. Directed by Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13”), the movie adapts Peter Craig’s novel into a middling action vehicle only truly notable for the way it illustrates Gibson’s limited range. He plays John, a loner who lives in a dusty trailer outside Los Angeles. He gets the chance to bond with his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) after she shows up on the lam following a drug deal gone wrong. Abruptly separated from her troublemaking criminal boyfriend (Diego Luna), she turns to John for shelter.
Less of an aging Mad Max than a hairy Terminator, John proceeds to blast hordes of baddies as the pair seek one shelter after another, bickering about their disconnect over the years to no compelling effect. While drawing on some resources from his prison days, John spends most of the movie shouting and firing at various assailants while his pouty daughter cowers behind him. The lame backstory surrounding his addiction — and the efforts of an equally down-and-out sponsor (William H. Macy) to keep him on track — only exacerbates the archetypical nature of Gibson’s role. But there’s an undeniable glee associated with the image of the gun-wielding actor speeding along and dispatching of any threat that comes his way. With Gibson’s image permanently cheapened by his public antics, he suits the cheap material.
Whenever John confronts any number of lunatics in a series of fast-paced maneuvers, “Blood Father” offers the full extent of its entertainment package all at once. But when he bickers with his daughter and attempts to take on a paternal role — “kid, you have the mindset of a battered housewife,” he cautions — the movie falls short on multiple levels. It’s too much of a straightforward action vehicle for the relationship tension between the pair to work, and Gibson’s so incapable of eliciting sympathy that his efforts just sound like lip service. And maybe they are: At an early AA meeting, John voices his earnest desire to make some progress. “You can’t be a prick all your life,” he asserts, and yet he seems to be stuck in that mode for the duration of the movie.
The cheesy dialogue isn’t as concerning as the way Richet avoids any opportunity to liven up the proceedings with fresher faces or sudden events. It’s pretty clear early on that “Blood Father” will head toward a dramatic confrontation between John and the criminals on his tail, but once the movie gets there, the payoff is slight at best — a few well-timed shots can’t rescue a movie so formulaic that it barely requires a script. If this is the new normal for Gibson, it’s probably his best shot at damage control, by simply merging his tarnished image with a fictional one used in the service of entertainment. It’s not a redemption so much as an erratic attempt at redirection.