For a while, Armed Response is, at least, a cheerfully silly, minimalist thriller, and then it must go and crap the bed by incorporating two other kinds of silliness - the kind that goes a few steps too far into goofy and another kind that's a bit more insidious. We'll get to that last kind in a minute, but it is telling that Matt Savelloni's debut screenplay goes to a place of discomforting exploitation at a key moment. It is as if the screenwriter couldn't help himself but to include a plot development that casts all the characters involved in a different light. It doesn't help that the film's foundation is equally rickety.
It starts swimmingly enough, though, with a unit of commandos being hunted down one by one in a prologue of broken images and desperate cries for help. Another unit has been sent into the Temple, the top-secret government base in which the attack happened. That second unit is led by Isaac (Wesley Snipes), who recruits his beleaguered old friend Gabriel (Dave Annable), creator of the technology that powers the Temple, to help the unit investigate what happened. The rest of the unit are played variously by Anne Heche, Kyle Clements, Morgan Roberts, Eyas Younis, and Colby Lopez (more commonly known as "Seth Rollins" in the world of professional wrestling).
The names of the characters, beyond those played by Annable, Snipes, and perhaps Mo Gallini, who plays a terrorist on the Federal watch list named Ahmadi upon whom the unit stumbles within the facility, don't really matter here. Most of those names are interchangeably mono- or disyllabic, and one might become lost trying to remember them. The actors are functional in their roles without standing (or, thankfully, sticking) out from the others within the cast, and director John Stockwell has at least a competent understanding of how to stage shootouts - more, at least, than of how to stage jump-scare sequences.
The movie shifts from the solid opening act, which sets up a confined thriller for the members of the unit when the building goes into lockdown mode, to one in which it seems the facility thinks for itself in an artificially intelligent way: During an interrogation of the terrorist prisoner, a conveniently timed electrical surge passes through his body, for instance, and it appears that the building can learn from human actions. It's a neat concept, but the film doesn't stay with that neat concept for very long. Eventually, the technological threat becomes a seemingly supernatural one.
This means that we get multiple sequences (dozens of them, it seems) in which some character - take your pick - sits, stands, or squats in seeming isolation while a darkened figure looms behind him or her. If one believes that one cannot guess what happens to a few of these characters after such an apparition appear, one hasn't seen any horror movies at all in one's lifetime. The film shifts again into ideological territory, particularly of a certain region in the Middle East, and that's where the distasteful element comes in. It removes any good will from characters for whom we had come close to rooting, and it rather sums up the various shortcomings of Armed Response.
Dave Annable (Gabriel), Wesley Snipes (Isaac), Anne Heche (Riley), Colby Lopez (Brett), Morgan Roberts (Paul), Eyas Younis (Saeed), Kyle Clements (Tyler), Mo Gallini (Ahmadi).
Directed by John Stockwell and written by Matt Savelloni.
Rated R (violence, grisly images, language).
Released in select cities on August 4, 2017.