The philosophy of Acts of Violence is - not to put too fine a point on it - rather disquieting. This will take some build-up to get to that point, so bear with me, reader. The premise, on the surface of it, is fairly simple: A young woman is abducted to be used as a test subject for a drug so powerful and lethal that it has left thirty local users dead within the last three weeks. The drug, for what it's worth, is carfentanyl. It is used primarily on large animals such as horses or elephants, and the obvious connection to fentanyl, a drug causing a genuine panic in our real world, is just one unsavory layer of Nicholas Aaron Mezzanotto's screenplay.
Come to think of it, all of that screenplay's layers are pretty equally unsavory. Its heroes are three brothers: Deklan (Cole Hauser) and Brandon (Shawn Ashmore) are veterans of Iraq, and Roman (Ashton Holmes) is about to marry Mia (Melissa Bolona, whose every line reading is so awkward that one suspects the actress attended a single table read before each of her scenes was shot). The bride-to-be is abducted at her bachelorette party by two goons on the payroll of Max Livingston (Mike Epps), a kingpin in the worlds of both sex slavery and drug manufacturing who refers to his victims, all of whom are young women, as "products" and has no qualms with killing employees who disrespect him.
The surface of the narrative plays out as one would expect from a revenge story: The brothers, who are somehow so intuitively prepared for every situation that they nearly reach the climax before suffering any lingering sort of defeat, pursue Livingston just as a police detective named Avery (Bruce Willis), who has been hunting the kingpin for two years, cottons onto the same activities (The firefights that ensue serve only to highlight the cheap filmmaking). It's what is going on just at or beneath the surface of this story that sheds an illuminating and disturbing light on Mezzanotto and director Brett Donowho's political and philosophical priorities.
The women here are pretty exclusively either damsels in distress to be saved by the good guys (and, yes, the use of "guys" here is specific to gender and not a generic reference to a group of people) or victims of the horrific machinations of the bad guys (One of the brothers' wives is killed, the emotional wreckage almost completely dismissed afterward), and they are also physical objects of Donowho's fascination: Just as we are becoming accustomed to the plot, which dives deep into the activities of a sex slavery operation, we are also treated to the sights of naked, writhing exotic dancers. The juxtaposition is, to say the least, a problem, and they reveal Acts of Violence to be merely cruel and pointless.
Cole Hauser (Deklan), Shawn Ashmore (Brandon), Bruce Willis (Avery), Ashton Holmes (Roman), Melissa Bolona (Mia), Sean Brosnan (Vince), Mike Epps (Livingston), Sophia Bush (Baker), Tiffany Brouwer (Jessa).
Directed by Brett Donowho and written by Nicholas Aaron Mezzanotto.
Rated R (violence, language throughout, sexuality/nudity, drug material).
Released in select cities on January 12, 2018.