Xtraction (2011) – By Matthew Saliba

While the 1980s were awash with bad hair, bad drugs and Ronald Reagan, it was also a period in which the action film reigned supreme at the box office. And with good reason. This was when action films actually showed action. They were shot by competent cinematographers who weren’t constrained by directors wanting their films to look like they were shot by a myopic Marty McFly. Somewhere along the lines, things changed as they’re wont to do and the cinematic language by which action (and genre) films were composed was drastically altered to the point where drama and intensity was measured not by how elaborate the fight choreography but rather how many cuts an editor can make within the span of a couple seconds to create the illusion that you’re seeing a well-made action film. Oh, and extra bonus points if you can place your camera as close to the subject as possible.

This is a condition in films that I like to call the "Bourne Identity Syndrome." It’s a disease that’s plaguing genre films nowadays and as someone who grew up watching Schwarzenegger flicks and who can recite the James Earl Jones speech from "Best of the Best" verbatim, it breaks my heart to see what has happened and what is still happening to my beloved genre.

Enter "Xtraction" by filmmaker Marco Santiago, Jr. The film looks and sounds like a slick and professional Hollywood production. The performances are solid all around, the use of actual locations is superb and the editing and pacing of the film is perfect for this kind of genre. If nothing else, this is a wonderful example of how far digital technology has come and how in the right hands, an indie film can look and sound like a "real film."

However, therein lies the problem. In its attempt to replicate the conventions of contemporary action cinema, it reveals itself to be a hallow viewing experience that doesn’t offer much in terms of originality. It also suffers from the aforementioned "Bourne Identity Syndrome" in that the camera is constantly shaking and the action is shot so tight, you can sometimes barely make out what’s happening.

It also suffers from a plot that isn’t terribly creative or coherent for the most part. From what I was able to gather, the story follows Ronnie (played ably by Katrina Matusek), a tough-as-nails ex-military contractor who along with her daughter, are abducted by Rene (Elias Castillo), a corrupt U.S. Consulate in Mexico. Her husband Dave (Kurt Caceres) frantically searches for her leaving no stone left unturned.

It’s a story you’ve seen time and again though for the life of me, I couldn’t keep track of the various locations and subplots in the film. Given its 13-minute running time, I found Santiago, Jr. tried to pack way too much into such short a film. Perhaps if he focused on the confrontation between Ronnie and Rene and established a clear motivation behind why they were abducted, I would have a greater emotional investment in his picture. As things stand now, you have a chaotic mess that tries to tell three different stories (Dave the husband doing his Jason Bourne routine, the Katrina-Rene showdown and the emotional conflict/resentment between mother and daughter) with a camera that won’t stay still long enough for viewers to connect with what’s going on.

At the end of the day, I can’t say I’d really recommend the film but given my bias against contemporary action flicks and the way they’re shot, you may want to take that into consideration. Let’s put it this way, if you enjoy films like "The Bourne Identity" and want to see how far indie films have come in their ability to ape Hollywood and create a slick action extravaganza of their own, then head on over to: http://xtractionmovie.com to check out the trailer and a list of upcoming screenings as it’s currently touring the festival circuit as of this writing.