On paper Riot looks like the perfect direct to video action film, a familiar and well liked plot involving a badass who gets himself sent to jail to get revenge on the mob boss who had his family killed and a cast that includes action hero Dolph Lundgren and MMA superstar Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. Something, however, got lost in translation to an actual film.
The plot is simple and straight forward enough policeman Jack Stone, (he must be a tough dude with a name like that), stages a bank robbery with the intention of being caught and sent to the same prison as Russian mob boss Balam. Balam is responsible for the killing of Jack’s family and he wants revenge. Of course Balam is actually running the prison and has the warden and staff in his pocket. He even has a luxury apartment in a restricted access part of the facility. Before going to prison Stone also sent evidence of Balam’s influence over various officials to a female reporter who’s now trying to stay alive long enough to break the story. Everything comes to a head during, you guessed it, a full on prison riot.
Despite his top billing Lundgren only has a supporting role as Willy, an inmate with his own agenda who helps Stone for his own reasons. He does get to do some ass kicking, but his screen time is fairly limited. The actually star is Matthew Reese who also produced the film. Probably his best known film he’s appeared in before this was Osombie. He’s an ok actor but really not up to top lining a film like this. There’s some very obvious sped up camerawork in the action scenes to try to make him look like a better fighter. Speaking of better fighters, Chuck Liddell plays the villain Balam, and while he’s menacing looking he really can’t act or handle an accent, (he sounds more like a Mexican than a Russian). Why they didn’t just make him an American mob boss is something of a mystery.
The script has some big holes from the obvious one of how Jack can he be sure he’ll end up in the same prison as Balam to why, with so much money and power Balam is in prison at all. If you can buy yourself a wing of the prison and turn it into a luxury suite you can buy your freedom as well. Obviously one doesn’t watch a film like this and expect logic, but a holes that big hurts the film badly.
The action scenes themselves are a mixed bag, a lot of the random fighting is pretty good but, as noted earlier there’s some obvious edit-fu going on several of Reese’s scenes. This really ruins those scenes and really brings the film down. A little bit of speeding up can make things look better, something this extreme is laughable.
If you can overlook the plot holes and the enhanced fight scenes the rest is put together professionally enough. Director John Lyde has a long list of credits, and knows how to put a film together competently if spectacularly. His best known film is, oddly enough, also Osombie.
While it should keep undiscriminating action fans and Lundgren junkies occupied, most other viewers are likely going to put it in a class with Dolph’s other recent stinker, Shark Lake.