The latest veteran actor to try his hand at the “geri-action” game is John Travolta with the tellingly titled I Am Wrath, He seems like another older actor who could deliver in such a role, I’m surprised it took him this long to give it a try in fact, Though I suppose he arguably gave it a shot already in Killing Season, he slips into the part of vengeful black-clad vigilante easily enough.
Although a helpless daughter is unfortunately featured at one point, I Am Wrath isn’t yet another Taken clone involving kidnap, but instead revolves around that most prominent of DTV action movie set-ups; the murdered spouse. Among the crime riddled streets of Columbus, Ohio, a fact emphasised by (staged) news footage that plays over the opening credits to remind us how common shootings are, Stanley Hill (Travolta) returns from a promising job interview in Florida. Not long after greeting his wife Vivian at the airport (Rebecca De Mornay, who gets maybe 2 minutes on screen), the couple are mugged in the car park and Vivian is stabbed to death.
It gets a bit off the standard route revenge movies go as the murderer is almost immediately apprehended, but the police don’t have enough evidence to hold him so he is soon released and we’re back to business as usual for these types of movies. As luck would have it, it turns out Stanley is not just a simple family man, he’s ex-special forces and has a friend and former colleague (Christopher Meloni) who still runs underground operations. Armed with information gathered from him, Stanley soon sets out to find the man who killed his wife.
So the plot of I Am Wrath is, minus a few tweaks, one we’ve seen countless times before: the lone avenging vigilante taking on criminals in his city dates back to at least Death Wish. Where it gets some variation is with the welcome addition of Meloni, who decides to join Travolta on his mission of vengeance. Seeing Meloni getting in on the aging action hero game is fun to watch, and he brings a bit of energy into the film that contrasts well with Travolta’s more subdued performance, making them an amusing enough badass double-act.
So I have to give I Am Wrath some credit for attempting to spruce up the basic urban revenge formula a bit, also, the fact that the bad guys – who are part of larger gang activity, are on the tail of the vigilantes as well helps, and it gains more complications involving the cops and the governor later too. However these prove more to be minor diversions, and on the whole the film feels very much like just another DTV revenge movie, particularly when it soon becomes more tedious in its hostage-based third act.
The action is all competently staged by director Chuck Russell and shot with polish by former Tarantino cinematographer Andrzej Sekuła. Russell seems to have moved down the rungs a bit since the nineties when he was making major films like The Mask and Eraser, in fact this is something of a comeback movie for him in being his first directorial credit since The Scorpion King fourteen years ago. There’s certainly nothing embarrassing about Travolta’s action scenes here, though nothing particularly noteworthy either.
The film boasts a few fun moments of Travolta and Meloni taking on the bad guys, along with a few silly ones – Travolta infiltrating a tattoo parlour and attempting to gain information from a criminal whilst getting the film’s title tattooed in huge writing across his back is kinda funny in an unintentional way.
Travolta’s role was originally slated to be for his Face/Off co-star turned straight-to-video stalwart Nicolas Cage, and I can’t help but wonder how this would have turned out with Cage and William Friedkin directing (who was initially signed) – who would Cage have been partnered with for example? But I imagine then it may well have been just another DTV Cage movie, this gains a little distinction from being Travolta’s first headline DTV action thriller, but while watchable enough it’s overall a standard and forgettable affair.