The gritty action flick Triple Threat, which bypassed cinemas and went straight to home entertainment in Australia, revolves around a nefarious plan to assassinate a billionaire’s daughter. It’s like a less crap version of The Expendables, says Travis Johnson.
While the theatrical landscape is dominated by big budget franchises – Marvel, Star Wars, The Fast and the Furious, and even the once-fresh John Wick – there remains, if you know where to look, a substrata of no-frills action cinema of no small appeal to the discerning action connoisseur.
These films are the heirs of the direct-to-video action boom that sustained the careers of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and their brothers in arms, some of whom still crop up in this milieu on the reg (despite his recent appearances in Creed 2 and Aquaman, Dolph remains a frequent flyer).
The DTV stars of more recent vintage are by no means household names, but they’re an impressive ensemble. Iko Uwais cracked skulls in The Raid and its sequel, while Tony Jaa did the same in the Ong Bak series. Tiger Chen taught Keanu Reeves how to kick ass and was directed by him in Man of Tai Chi. British martial artist Scott Adkins was the mute Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, while American exponent Michael Jai White was once, many years ago, Spawn. And they’ve all come together for the action extravaganza, Triple Threat.
Yes, it is like a less crap version of The Expendables. It is exactly that.
The titular trio are Uwais, Jaa, and Chen, who fall afoul of Adkins and White’s Western mercenaries/terrorists and have to defend the daughter of an Asian billionaire from their nefarious plans. Yes, all these characters have names, and no, none of them matter – I defy anyone to think of Tony Jaa as “Payu” instead of “Tony Jaa” at any point during Triple Threat’s brutally brisk 96 minutes.
Indeed, not only are names unimportant, so too are characteristics. To be fair, Uwais is motivated by the murder of his wife early in the proceedings, but what matters here are not motivations but techniques. Indonesian Uwais is a Pencak Silat stylist. Thai Jaa practices Muay Thai. Chen, being Chinese, is a kung fu exponent, and the script ensures that they all get to bounce off each other in violent and acrobatic ways before tackling Adkins and White, plus their small army of henchpeople. Female action star Jeeja Yanin, who fans will remember from Chocolate (2008) and This Girl is Bad-Ass (2011) is among their horde, because Triple Threat is equal opportunity in its quest to provide the viewer with as much mayhem as possible.
It is a little pedestrian in its presentation, though. Director Jesse V. Johnson is a fairly perfunctory visual stylist, and while he knows enough to set the camera back and let the superb fight choreography do the heavy lifting, it’s hard not to wonder how more accomplished filmmakers in the genre, such as Gareth Evans (The Raid), or Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes For Us) might have handled the material. The writing is a little heavy handed, also, which is something of a feature in this world rather than a bug. Still, there are perhaps two too many plot convolutions.
These are quibbles, though. Triple Threat is satisfying the way a good takeaway burger is satisfying. It’s a lean, muscular action thriller that knows what its principal charms are and goes out of its way to deliver them in spades. That also means it’s not really interested in trying to appeal to anyone who’s not already a member of the tribe. If you’re not a fan of action cinema, nothing here will change your mind. If, however, you are down with a bit of finely tuned biffo, Triple Threat is here for you.