Chasing down defaulters for the local loan shark is far from glamorous work, as the leading man of “The Debt Collector” can surely tell you. Under the direction of stuntman-turned-filmmaker Jesse Johnson, “The Debt Collector” blends hard-hitting action with the dark humour and stylistic irony of Quentin Tarantino and Todd Phillips. While not quite as colorful as Johnson’s previous outing, “Accident Man”, this nonetheless delivers a satisfying crime-thriller with an ending that’s quite deliberate in its emotional ambiguity – and one that was being laid out before your very eyes the whole time…
The great action man Scott Adkins steps into the role of military veteran French, who finds himself partnered in the task of debt collection with a pro of the profession, Sue, played by Louis Mandylor. Vladimir Kulich portrays their cut-throat employer, Tommy, while Michael Pare tackles the brief but pivotal role of French’s friend and martial arts student, Alex. Tony Todd also appears as the appropriately vicious crime boss, Barbosa, with Rachel Brann assuming the role of his pampered mistress Amanda, while Sara Finley portrays Sue’s prostitute girlfriend, Lola.
After serving in the British military and seeing several tours of duty in Iraq, French has since relocated to Los Angeles, establishing a martial arts school, eager to leave his old life behind.
Unfortunately, recent financial woes make it difficult for him to keep the lease on his dojo, so his close friend and student Alex agrees to hook French up with the local shark, Tommy, with the aim of making a quick buck. Tommy partners French with his trusted collector (or “mediator” as he calls it) Sue, a grizzled boozehound who lets French handle all of the driving. As the two collectors criss-cross L.A. collecting on one defaulter after another, French quickly becomes grateful at how good the money is in this line of work, since he has no intention of staying in it for long.
Despite taking place over the course of a weekend, “The Debt Collector” feels more like a “day in the life of” plot line seen in the likes of “Dredd” or Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”.
The film jumps right into the thick of French’s predicament with no posturing or a huge amount of set up – he’s behind on his lease, needs a fast paycheck, and it’s off to the races. Scott and Louis Mandylor have fantastic chemistry as a partnering of opposites, and half the fun of the movie is simply in seeing them banter back and forth as they drive through L.A. tracking down the next defaulter to rough up.
The film gets some solid comedy mileage out of the descending ten-to-one scale French is introduced to by Sue, indicating how likely they are to encounter violence from Tommy’s clients – French suitably perturbed that the most passive form of resistance they run into involves gunfire.
Louis Mandylor gives a captivating performance in the role of Sue, a man with nothing but ennui for his profession and day-to-day life, but who nevertheless still takes great pride that he once started in a ninja movie or two. A more conventional script would have French be the good cop to Sue’s bad cop, but “The Debt Collector” crafts their partnership more along the lines of “good cop, bored cop” without the former feeling too cliched or the latter being unsympathetic, and neither lacking the ability to properly thrown down when the occasion calls for it.
When it comes to the martial arts action of the film, while far from being lacklustre, it’s not the usual bristling razzle dazzle that Scott Adkins and Jesse Johnson are known for, and that’s actually very intentional on their part and that of fight choreographer Luke LaFontaine.
The film kicks off with French’s hard-hitting smackdown with a trio of fighters from a local “McDojo” trying to run him out of business. French’s fighting style is at its flashiest in the opening dojo brawl, while he takes a more grounded but still powerful approach when he enters his new line of work alongside Sue, who’s much more of a bar room brawler in comparison.
It’s only later on that you realize that by setting the viewer up with a whirlwind of heroic, triumphant butt-kicking on French’s part in the opening moments of the film, that the director and star are pulling a major bait-and-switch on the audience.
As the film progresses, Johnson takes the dual perspectives of French and Sue in structuring his action sequences – the former sees every violent encounter as an unnecessary headache to be overcome, and the latter, owing to his far greater level of experience in this line of work, all but shifts into auto-pilot through each shake-down. None of this is to say that the film’s fighting action is in any way a let down, but that the viewer is being played like a harp into expecting the film to go the more traditional route of a heroic triumph against overwhelming odds, when it’s simply about trying to survive. The final twenty minutes, especially, really shows just how much “The Debt Collector” has pulled the wool over the viewer’s eyes in a barrage of ballistic mayhem in which loyalties are betrayed and our two heroes find themselves forced to choose between their employer’s orders and their moral compass. It all ends on a tonal question mark that’s downright fiendish in how bluntly it presents itself, and makes the black-and-white footage of cattle interspersed throughout the film take on a whole new context.
“The Debt Collector” is nothing if not a gutsy crime thriller. By setting the audience up with a fantastic display of meticulous action in its first five minutes, it lulls you into thinking you’re getting a certain kind of movie, only to hit you right between the eyes with something else and making no apology for it. Jesse Johnson shows his true versatility as an action filmmaker with the wildly different contexts his action sequences take during and after the opening reel, and when they’re not throwing down in one vigorous brawl after another, Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor thoroughly entertain with their comedic banter between fisticuffs. Pity, then, that French and Sue’s partnership is likely a one-and-done!
- “I need someone with big #%^& and fast fists.” – Sue (on what he needs in a partner for debt collecting.)
- “Well, lucky for you, I’ve got both.” – French (in reply.)
- “There’s one hundred grand in here, you masochistic $#%^&!” – French (after discovering the hidden stash of a client just $40,000 in debt.)
- The working title of the film was “The Pay Up”.
- Jesse Johnson had written the script for the film back in the early 2000’s, but had difficulty getting the film greenlit. After directing “Savage Dog” with Scott Adkins, Jesse Johnson subsequently became director of Scott’s pet project, “Accident Man”, which then led to his directing of the upcoming martial arts ensemble “Triple Threat”, also starring Scott. It was Jesse’s role in directing the three films that ultimately finally led to he and Scott receiving the greenlight to make “The Debt Collector”.
Film Rating: 8/10
Seen “The Debt Collector” yet, what are your thoughts and impressions? What’s your favourite collaboration between Scott Adkins and Jesse Johnson so far, and what would you really like to see next? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation and share this on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Don’t forget, to ‘collect’ on these kick flix too!)