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A not-so-good ‘Samaritan’

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Superheroes continue to rule the cinematic roost. Whether we’re talking about the megablockbusters put forth by the Big Two or smaller fare, capes have become a constant.

Of course, when you’re talking about this sort of sheer volume of production, the level of quality is going to vary significantly. Sure, there’s a pretty high floor when it comes to stuff like the MCU and DCEU (although perhaps not as high as it once was), but still – even a superhero homer like myself has to acknowledge that some of these offerings are … not great.

The latest in that line of not-great super fare is “Samaritan,” currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s an odd bit of IP maneuvering, actually – the story began as a spec script, but actually became a graphic novel in 2014 before the film was ultimately made. Unfortunately, that might be the most unique aspect of the entire experience, considering the tossed-off and generally derivative nature of the final film product.

With a meandering narrative, cut-rate effects work and a lead performance from Sylvester Stallone that would kindly be referred to as disinterested, “Samaritan” seems content to simply toss a bunch of cliches and other formulaic nonsense into the hopper to be churned and blended into a bland and uninspired mess.

In Granite City, twin brothers were born with tremendous gifts beyond those of mortal men. One would choose to fight for the side of good; he would be called Samaritan. The other would opt for the dark side; he would be dubbed Nemesis. Back and forth they battled, until one fateful night, they fought one final time; the subsequent explosion destroyed them both.

Years later, Samaritan and Nemesis remain an object of some fascination, with a devoted subculture dedicated to proving that Samaritan actually survived the blast and went into hiding. One proponent of that theory is a young man named Sam (Javon Walton), a kid whose obsession with Samaritan has led him to declare multiple times that he has uncovered the former hero’s new identity … and to learning multiple times that he is wrong.

Sam lives with his mom Tiffany (Dasha Polanco), a single mother struggling to make ends meet in a city where poverty and unrest are on the rise. This leads Sam to ingratiate himself with the wrong crowd, which in turn leads to him catching the eye of local crime lord Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek). But when Sam crosses the wrong guys, he is in real danger … right up until he is saved by his neighbor Joe (Sylvester Stallone) in a manner that could only be described as superheroic.

Convinced that this time, he’s got the right guy – that he has found Samaritan – Sam pushes to try and find out more about Joe. Despite his efforts to push the kid away, Joe slowly warms to Sam, even as the machinations of Cyrus begin to cause even greater turmoil in the community. It becomes clear that Sam will have to choose between believing in the hero he’s always admired or in the stark reality in front of him.

Does Samaritan live? And if so, where has he been? And will he return before it is too late?

Let’s be clear – I wanted to enjoy this movie. I am always happy to clear the runway for a superhero story, particularly one that exists outside the massive IP hoard of Marvel and DC. Give me all of it – original stories, indie IP, weird combo platters like this one, I don’t care. I love these stories.

Just not this one.

“Samaritan” is not good. It is a haphazard affair across the board, unsure of the tone it wishes to strike and unclear regarding how we should feel about its characters. The storytelling is a bit threadbare and somewhat lazy, eschewing character development and world-building for meandering sub-subplots and repeated flashbacks. The effects are subpar, as are the limited action sequences. Oh, and none of the grand plots and plans that play out here make even a lick of sense if examined for even a moment.

The superhero comeback trope is one that has been around for a long time, this notion of a hero getting out of the game and going into hiding, only to be forced back into the fray by circumstances. There are definitely interesting cinematic stories to be told through this particular concept, good movies to be made.

Just not this one.

Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned lack of consistency and character development does a number on the performances. Looking at Stallone’s unsettlingly smooth and shiny visage makes one wonder how much of the budget was spent on CGI de-aging (or how much HGH Sly’s been mainlining). It’s just a lot of muttering and glowering interspersed with some pretty clearly altered moments of action. I say this as someone who loves Stallone and believes that he’s actually underrated as an actor, but Sly, buddy – this ain’t it.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. Javon Walton is a rising star, with a couple of legit credits under his belt, but what he’s doing here doesn’t work. There’s a broadness to the portrayal that renders Sam kind of unlikeable; not the actor’s fault, but true all the same. Asbaek is going for a cartoonishness that only haphazardly lands – sometimes, he’s good, but other times, he might as well be in a completely different movie. The rest of the folks we encounter are either plot devices or background noise, existing primarily because you need more than a handful of people in your cast.

“Samaritan” is a misfire, a film that tries to cash in on the superhero trend without really understanding why any of it is appealing in the first place. This “Samaritan” is not good.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 29 August 2022 10:21

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