Chances are if John Stockwell is the guy directing the movie, it means some unsuspecting American tourist is about to have the worst beach vacation ever. That trend continues with the Caribbean action flick, In the Blood, but his star is no shrinking violet unable to fend off her attackers. Instead it's MMA star-turned-movie bad ass Gina Carano, in her first solo lead role since Haywire. When she's doing her thing, namely cracking a few skulls, the film is a fun, gritty throwback. But when the action slows down and the seams in the story start to show, you'll be tapping out for it to end.
There's a reason why Soderbergh, in another fit of mad genius, selected Carano to head up Haywire in her debut acting role. She's not only a physical force of nature, bending her screen foes into pretzels with ease, but she's also quite the beauty and someone who has a natural presence. However, she needs to trade in a few of those gym hours for a few more acting lessons. She's not awful, but showing any hint of vulnerability remains an issue, and that's a problem when playing a newly-married woman whose husband (Cam Gigandet) has just been kidnapped from their Caribbean honeymoon.
Through grainy footage that might have been shot on somebody's spare IPhone, we are introduced to a young Ava (Carano), whose father (Stephen Lang) is murdered right in front of her eyes. But before that he was a rough-houser who taught her how to fight. It also got her into a lot of trouble with the law, and years later when she weds Derek (Gigandet), his wealthy family is none too happy about having her around. When a local offers to take the newly couple out to show them night life, they hit a swanky night club, only to have Ava do some hitting of her own when a crime boss played by Danny Trejo gets a little too frisky. So for a brief moment we get Carano vs. Machete, until she lays waste to the entire club. A zip lining excursion over a deadly gulf goes wrong the next day when Derek's equipment fails. Crashing from the incredible height, he's picked up by the EMTs and promptly kidnapped, forcing Ava to contend with the corrupt cops (led by Luis Guzman) and sleazy armed goons(Amaury Nelasco at his scuzziest) to get him back.
It's all pretty standard stuff that Stockwell occasionally spruces up with some adventurous camerawork. But then again, it's tough to screw up shooting in the lush Puerto Rican locale. When Carano is given free reign to break a few bones, you never want to look away. She's got such a great combination of speed, power, and looks that her mere presence can, albeit briefly, overcome the script's many flaws. There are simply no surprises here and fewer stakes, since we never feel for a moment that Ava is in any danger of losing. It's also more than a little confounding that Carano isn't asked to do more fighting when clearly that's why anybody is watching this film to begin with. Hello, we want to see her beating folks up, not talking through her problems.
In the Blood doesn't totally make use of Carano's physical talents, and her acting still needs some work, but when she's allowed to cut loose it makes for a solid old school action flick. Here's hoping Carano's next leading role gives her a little more to work with.