If you’ve ever seen a movie directed by Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino, you’d be forgiven for thinking that either of them had some connection to Christian Sesma’s “Vigilante Diaries” – and the presence of Michael Madsen certainly makes that feeling more palpable. Like their respective bodies of work, they come with a unique set of tick boxes which is how you know they’ve pretty much done what they’ve set out to do!
Paul Sloan steps into the role of the man at the center of everything, a mysterious and absolutely merciless crime-fighter known only as “The Vigilante”, while Jason Mewes of “Jay and Silent Bob” fame portrays his tech-savvy ally, Mike Hanover. Michael Madsen brings his usual gruff and grizzled drawl to the role of Moreau, while Arman Nsahnian embodies Armenian mobster Andreas, and Michael Jai White portrays the film’s puppet master, the cool and nefarious Barrington.
The rest of the characters are a hodge-podgeof computer geeks, mercenaries and assassins, with MMA-great Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and pro-wrestler Sal “Chavo” Guerrero shining in the roles of Wolfman and Tex-Mex, Kevin L. Walker and Mike Hatton as Vigilante-allies Barry and “The Kid”, and Jaqueline Lord as our hero’s love interest, Jade.
Once a soldier, the man known to the public as “The Vigilante”, terrorizes the criminal underworld, with online support from Mike Hanover, who puts the fear of God into crime bosses and mobsters by streaming The Vigilante’s activities across the internet.
However, one such enemy, Armenian mob boss Andreas, finally manages to get The Vigilante in his clutches, but with the help of Hanover, along with his fellow ally Barry, the Vigilante’s lover Jade, and a team of cutthroat mercenaries, Andreas’ planned execution is thwarted. However, our hero’s mission is just getting started as he prepares to go after the man behind the curtain, the devious manipulator and arms dealer Barrington.
“Vigilante Diaries” sits in good company with the likes of “Kill Bill“, “Machete”, or “The Expendables” – they all fit in that twilight zone between homage and parody, kind of taking themselves seriously but not really. The film benefits greatly from this, because it can be all over the place without that seeming like a problem. Our hero’s story goes from a semi-realistic urban-hunter action thriller to an entire-world-hanging-in-the-balance ticking time bomb plot and back again, and still feels tonally consistent within the parameters of the tone its established.
The character of The Vigilante is like a less jaded, less cynical version of The Punisher, but with an equally strong bloodlust for psychos and criminals. Like most of Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s work, you get the sense that he and most of the characters in the film are in on the joke of the kind of movie they’re in and they’re all just having fun with it. “Vigilante Diaries” doesn’t quite strive for the same meta-heights as “Deadpool” would, but it works better for the story it’s telling for it to knock on the fourth wall rather than break through it outright.
For a rather modestly-budgeted endeavor, “Vigilante Diaries” does a decent job of setting itself up as a globe-trotting action thriller venturing to locations as diverse as Iraq and India. While martial arts is used very much in a supplementary capacity, it still gets the job done. Michael Jai White portrays Barrington as something of a Lex Luthor-esque villain, largely manipulating the events from behind the scenes to his benefit, but he manages to find time to get his hands dirty when the need calls for it, including a skirmish with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the film’s opening melee of fists and bullets in Baghdad.
Paul Sloan brings a terrific screen presence as The Vigilante, who blasts off and slugs every henchman in his path, but the most memorable action scene in the film is a sprawling cat-fight between Mary Christina Brown as Barrington’s henchwoman Swan, and Levy Tran as “The New Kid”, and here the film pulls off a delicate but impressive balancing act of having the size and scale of its story operate at two extremes simultaneously. To put it simply, the fate of millions of people comes down to Rampage diffusing a bomb in a garage. Only minutes later, the film wraps up on a scene that brings two characters together, and one exceptionally well-placed cameo, that is oddly akin to the fate of Adolf Hitler in “Inglorious Basterds”. It’s the movie’s way to straight up telling the viewer that it’s going to do whatever it wants to do!
If you have a yen for self-aware action movies, do check out “Vigilante Diaries”. Within the means of a modest budget, it manages to encapsulate a scope that brings the highest stakes to the smallest scale whilst maintaining a fun tone throughout that shows that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And talk about making history – Rampage now holds the distinction of being the first MMA fighter to have diffused a bomb onscreen! Just throwing that out there…
- Originally, “Vigilante Diaries” began as a series of shorts released on Machinima in 2013. Following their success, the film was greenlit to continue the story.
- During production, Paul Sloan injured his Achilles tendon and spent the final two weeks of filming having to work around the injury.
- In real-life, Michael Jai White and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson are good friends and frequent training partners.