Although he’s been kicking ass and taking names on screen for well over a decade now, British action star Scott Adkins has never managed to really break out and become a household name. That’s a shame, because few movie tough guys can match his gruff, bruised-knuckle charisma. Perhaps he was just born a couple decades too late.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s heyday of lean-and-mean straight-to-video action cheapies, guys like Adkins actually enjoyed a comfortable place in the Hollywood ecosystem, just a rung or two below A-list icons like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. If names like Jeff Speakman, Gary Daniels, Michael Dudikoff, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Mark Dacascos, and Dolph Lundgren don’t ring a bell for you, well, all I can say is you missed out on some big, dumb, crunchy fun. Adkins follows in that proud-but-not-too-proud tradition and adds a knowing dash of Jason Statham’s rascally cockney intensity, cranking out movies that will never play at a theater near you at a prodigious clip.
The latest offering from the Birmingham-born butcher’s son is a delightfully nasty little revenge movie called Avengement. And if you like watching an endless string of prison brawls and pub fights connected by the thinnest of narrative threads, then you’ll be in heaven. Adkins stars as Cain Burgess, a boxer who gets into hot water when he screws up throwing a fight. For reasons both too complicated and too inane to get into, he agrees to rob an old lady for his crime-boss brother (or, in the East End accent of the film’s cast, “bruvva”), played by Craig Fairbrass (a Gordon Ramsay lookalike you may or may not remember from Stallone’s Cliffhanger).
Anyway, Cain gets sent off to prison. And not just any prison, but the roughest, toughest prison in all of England. How rough and tough? It’s affectionately known as the Meat Grinder. And it’s there, over the next seven years, that Cain will basically throw down with anyone who comes his way with a shiv, a cup of battery acid, or a serial killer’s smirk. Which happens to be basically everyone, since his brother has put a bounty on his head. (For the record, no, his brother’s name is not Abel.) These fights make up roughly 60 percent of the movie — an uncommonly large percentage, to be sure. But they’re not without their Neanderthal pleasures, if you’re into that sort of thing. Adkins is a brute, blunt instrument who has a tendency to grin when he’s beating someone to a pulp. And you almost get the sense that he’s enjoying it. It might just be acting, but I kinda doubt it.
All this is a lead-up to a prison escape while visiting his dying mum and a rendezvous with his backstabbing brother at a gangster pub called the Horse & Jockey, where Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Nick Moran holds court and delivers some sorely needed comic relief. Director Jesse V. Johnson sprinkles in enough cruel twists of fate and melancholy-laced flashbacks to prevent Avengement from becoming just another disposable exercise in action sadism on a budget. The real credit, though, goes to Adkins, who one of these days will hopefully get called up to the Hollywood big leagues and wind up surprising a lot of people — and grin while he’s doing it. B
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