PLOT: A grizzled band of bounty hunters are tasked with tracking down and capturing an oddly enigmatic vixen named Mae (Chasty Ballesteros). Problem is, the sexy vamp is also being pursued by a ruthless gaggle of border runners working for a monstrous drug kingpin (Danny Trejo). Let it motherf*cking rain!
REVIEW: It's been a busy couple of years for indie genre filmmaker Christian Sesma, who, after helming the short-lived action series Vigilante Diaries in 2014 (which he's now adapting into a feature), now returns with two feature films this year. AWOL-72 is one such flick, due in August, and the other is THE NIGHT CREW, a picture we first wrote about way the hell back in 2011. Well folks, I'm stoked to inform you that the sly vampiric spin of THE NIGHT CREW - a well acted, fast-rhythm and hyper-violent indie action assault - has more or less proven worth the four year wait. With respective shades of MAD MAX, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and a tinge of PRECINCT 13 thrown in for good measure - THE NIGHT CREW relies less on phony FX and unfeasible CG and leans far more on the performative power of its charismatic stars. Straight up, it's largely the onscreen appeal of genre vets Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine, Danny Trejo and others that lend THE NIGHT CREW its low-tech but potent entertainment value.
A cool and brisk pace is immediately established with a manic burst of action. Our chiseled and grizzled band of bounty hunters - Wade (Goss), Crenshaw (Woodbine), Ronnie (Paul Sloan) and Rose (Luciana Faulhaber) - are in quick hot pursuit of Mae (Ballesteros), a sexy Chinese temptress who we can tell harbors some kind of dark secret. A powerful one too, as Mae's also being sought after by the ill and bedridden King Cartel himself (Trejo), who sics two goons on her fine ass until she's back in the cozy confines of El Jefe's desert mansion. But not so goddamn fast. Mae is one slick trickster, able to mount one cunning escape after another. She even eludes our ball-busting foursome of gunners at first blush, but like true bosses, they eventually track her mysterious behind to a dilapidated motel out in the post-apocalyptic looking desert. There we find a hash-head security guard named Chachi (Jason Mewes, of course), who's quickly thrown into the mix when taken hostage by Mae. And that's just the tip!
Soon, once locating the motel, said goons call in the reinforcements: an army of machinegun toting drug-runners to wet the place up with a hail of bullets. And that they do! Our bounty hunters go toe to toe, blow for blow with a ferocious firestorm of traded artillery - techs, semis, dezzies, lasers, etc. - and do so on multiple occasions, all the while trying to keep an eye on the sneaky Mae. Meanwhile, Mae and Rose slowly strike up an unlikely bond, as the latter also keeps a personal secret of her own that could change her ultimate fate. But will they even survive the deadly assault?
And this is the part of the flick that I'm most conflicted with. On one hand I admire the subtle, backdoor approach to not just the reveal of Mae's identity - which we know is amiss from jump street - but how it then manifests toward a benevolent conclusion regarding Rose. But on the other, I found the Mae on Rose stuff a tad melodramatic most of the time, and even a slight interruption to what overall is a jaunty tempo. Not that I don't like seeing these two sexpots flirt with and ultimately help one another, or even know full well that you have to pace with peaks and valleys, it's just that I think the real strength of the movie lies within its high-wattage action shootouts and more grounded, believable turns from Goss and the boys.
Real shit. I'm sure Sesma and company could have easily opted to cast complete unknowns in the key leads and deferred the money (roughly $3 million) to the technical side - camera stock, DP, VFX, etc. But trust me, the movie would be far worse off. The reason THE NIGHT CREW works is because of its seasoned lead actors, Goss and Woodbine in particular, who make the characters feel natural and authentic even when the script and outlandish action does not. Even during the interstitial snippets between incendiary shootouts, these dudes (along with Paul Sloan, who co-wrote the script, and Jacqueline Lord) have an innate chemistry and onscreen rapport that really carries this kind of movie a long way. If it were the opposite - all spectacle and subpar acting - the flick would suffer interminably. Here though it's the technical aspects of the flick, already hampered by such a modest budget, that take a backseat to the more important purveyor of believable storytelling: the actors.
Look, if you dig cool characters amid your sick and wicked gunplay, THE NIGHT CREW succeeds as a fun and assaultive throwback action flick. Even if it doesn't fully deliver on its attempt to flip vampire convention, it's still admirable to try something so wildly different. And honestly, the strength of the picture is in Sesma's casting of familiar faces in Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine, Danny Trejo and even Jason Mewes. These dudes have a natural chemistry that up-sells the material in way that really elevates the whole experience. Additionally, the refreshing practical action FX and wild-west shoot 'em up sequences are what A-list movies of this caliber are sorely lacking. Sure THE NIGHT CREW suffers from budgetary constraints and has a chintzy B-movie feel as a result, but so what. The rat-a-tat rhythm and pace of gory action flick rings true. Hire THE NIGHT CREW at once!