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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Blunt Force Trauma (2015)

Written and directed by Ken Sanzel

Ryan Kwanten:  John
Freida Pinto:  Colt
[REDACTED]:  Zorringer

I've known my friend Scott since we were thirteen years old (we're both 41 as of this writing, if my math can be trusted). I'd give him a kidney if he wanted it. Not even if he needed one, just wanted one. He's had my back since I was a skinny bespectacled science fiction dork in the brass buckle of the Bible belt, and I've had his for the same period of time. We have known each other long enough that we've got a private slanguage made up of movie quotes and ridiculous things we've said in each others' presence for the last quarter century and change. It's possible that he's playing some kind of horrible prank on me for my self-declared July 10 holiday, but I'm not entirely sure yet. He did tell me to pick either "You're welcome" or "I'm sorry" as a quote to put at the start of the review, so Future Tim is going to go back and cross one of those out after I'm done with the film that's getting posted on Telstar Day.

He told me about this movie, knowing my weakness for Stoic Fighting Guy movies. In fact, he started his sales pitch by saying "It doesn't say anything that Hard Times or Robot Jox didn't already say about people who find themselves compelled to commit to personal combat for reasons of their own," and I immediately perked up. As you can tell by the underlining and different color for those movie titles, I've already reviewed both of them. Ryan Kwanten, the lead, was one of the stars of Knights of Badassdom, another flick that's shown up here at the Checkpoint.

So for my own private irreligious observance this year I'm forgoing a movie about satellites and instead watching one about a sport so stupid that I can't believe it's not on ESPN 5 already. Dumber than competition level face slapping, it's time to delve into a film about the underground pistol dueling scene. I really miss the days where movies with this kind of plot could get a theatrical release (I remember seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme's Lionheart in a second-run theater, which is another "stoic guy fights people in squalid surroundings" movies). Hell, since it was filmed in Bogota, it's a cinch that an old-school director like Roger Corman or someone a rung or two below him on the Hierarchy of Exploitation Cinema to revive the tagline for Snuff ("Made in South America...Where LIFE is CHEAP!"). It'd make a moderate to large profit in theaters and become fondly remembered on VHS for being "that one fight movie where dudes empty clips at each other three times". Unfortunately that isn't the way they distribute B movies any more, so what we got is something that will be available on Netflix and other streaming services until it isn't.

The film starts with someone chalking a circle about three feet across on the cement floor of an industrial space while an audience gathers and a Joss Whedon impersonator gets a brief closeup. Bundles of currency are laid down and a pair of people put guns down for inspection, then suit up with bulletproof vests. This first time that we witness whatever's going on, there's a scarred South American competitor and a white guy with Action Flick Stubble(TM) on his jawline. There's also rings of seats less than two feet from each person who will be shooting at each other from about twenty feet away--I wonder if this is the only sport where the most expensive seats are farther away from the action.

While the credits run, the two gunfighters strap holsters to their bodies and step into their respective circles. They're not even bothering to make much of a Hate Face at each other--the audience surmises that it's a business proposition for them, not a personal vendetta going on. And there's a slate with odds chalked on it, but so far there hasn't been a single syllable of intelligible dialogue (just some crowd muttering as people file in to take their seats). The guy who isn't Ryan Kwanten has seven chalk marks on his vest, which makes me think he's won--or at least competed--more than half a dozen times. A woman on the sidelines throws a large metal bolt onto the dingy metal floor between the two men and when it clinks on the ground they draw. The white guy's faster and shoots his opponent, who staggers back but raises his gun anyway; the second shot staggers him to the point where he sits down on the cement barrier behind him until the referee gives him a really, really long count of five to get back up and get shot again. When he declines (and who could really blame him?) "North" is declared the winner of the match. I'm not sure if the positions in the arena were north and south or if that's the nickname of the gringo who competes in this sport at this point, but I'm sure the filmmakers will get around to telling me before too terribly long.

"North" sticks around to watch the next match, which is apparently using the Andy Kaufman Inter-Gender rules. A towering shaven-headed guy faces off against a Hispanic woman, and takes six shots to the torso in a matter of seconds, and "South" wins her match. Guess that the circles are North and South, then. Oh, and the sparse crowd boos the winner, who gives them the finger and walks off to sit next to North and insult the technique and assumed genital size of her opponent (turns out that the Desert Eagle is the mid-life-crisis sports car of handgun dueling; it's also heavy enough that trying to pull one quickly before the other person shoots you is really, really tough). The woman then introduces herself as Colt and the previous winner gives his name as John. The pair of victors look at the next match, and notice an attractive woman in a black dress observing the proceedings. Colt says she's the one who picks Zorringer's fights, and that guy is probably really good at this because he has a name with more than one syllable.

North (another gringo) fucks up and shoots South in the leg; that turns out to be a forfeit. I expect it's also a "South's friends kick the shit out of you in an alley when they track you down" offense too, or at least it should be. Colt asks John if he knows someone named Red Dolan, but he's already leaving the arena and following Zorringer's manninger out the dooringer and doesn't have time to talk. The scout says she's not here for John and wants to see him with his shirt off when he asks what he's got to do in order to get a shot (aheh) at what I assume is the big league of competitive fast-draw pistol dueling. He doesn't have cauliflower torso (or whatever the long term injuries you get from being shot multiple times would be called), so the mystery woman just declares him not ready for Zorringer. John just looks at it as him being fast and accurate enough that he hasn't been shot yet in the competition. The woman tells John that she'll be in "the old city" in a week, and it's up to him to see if anything's different by then.

After getting turned down for the big time, John walks out of the arena to see that Colt is waiting for him. He gets off on the mother of all conversational wrong feet by assuming Red Dolan knocked Colt up and she's looking for support or a wedding ring. It's not Sex that motivates Colt, but rather Violence (Dolan killed her brother by using an armor-piercing round, so she's in the dueling game so she can fight him and probably foul out by either doing the same to him or just blowing his head off). It's interesting to see a female character with a relative in the fridge; most of the time in action movies it's the hero who loses a wife, girlfriend, daughter or sister to the threat in order to motivate him to get to the third act (Death Wish 3 kills off the love interest less than three minutes after she and the vigilante sleep together--the woman's role in the story is to be avenged, so there's no point in giving her any screen time past the bare minimum or characterization past "is willing to have sex with Chuck Bronson despite a multiple-decade age difference"). We're never going to meet Colt's brother outside of a flashback or possibly a seance, though, so her motivation's good and established before the narrative of this film even starts.

Colt's search for Red has taken several months (or possibly more than a year); turns out that he shot Colt's brother in a Mexican fight, but that the Mexican authorities shut the whole circuit down. Not being a professional investigator or duelist, it took her a while to figure out where everyone moved on after Mexico stopped hosting gunfights. According to John, Red got beat and decided not to get back into the circle, but vague rumors put him back in the game after a certain amount of wound-licking time. Colt, however, doesn't have any idea what the guy actually looks like and needs John to point him out. She's got a car, he does not, and he's got to get to that old city in seven days. Looks like both people can do something for the other. I like me a nice mercenary relationship in movies. Maybe the pair of 'em will do something as cliched as fall for each other, but so far the film hasn't been hackneyed enough to make me think that it's inevitable. For her part, Colt just wants to know when she's actually found Red Dolan and isn't thinking any farther than that.

Speaking of people with plans that end sharply, John drops a little exposition of his own during a night drive from Here to There; Zorringer used to compete openly and now just waits for competitors to come to him. Nobody who claimed there were going to challenge him ever come back from those duels, so it looks like either he's absolutely the best of ever at shooting people who stand there and take it or he's got the longest Monopoly game in history going on at his swingin' bachelor pad.

John and Colt make their way to a railway terminal full of rusting old trains; like the aforementioned Hard Times, this is a movie that doesn't make the underground fighting circuit look glamorous. It's dingy, the competitors risk piles of cash doing something terminally stupid and hideously dangerous, and the reward is getting a chance to do it again with somebody more practiced. I guess there's some kind of attraction to this life for John, but damned if I can tell what it is at this point (though being good enough at the sport that he hasn't been shot yet is probably an ego stroke the likes of which I can scarcely imagine).

While John's match is set up, a gringo in the audience asks Colt who she knows in the sport; she just says her partner knows Red Dolan and the random dude next to her turns out to know Red, or at least know what the rumor mill is saying about the guy. He knows some vengeance-fixated woman is tracking him down and that can't help Colt's plan in the least. The second arena, by the way, is a maintenance trench in the rail yard that makes it impossible for either man to even think about dodging. The blaze orange spray paint marking their positions on the grime looks really evocative. The cinematographer in this flick really manages to give a lot of filthy character to the shooting locations.

The second match sees John pull his gun before the other man, but hesitates so that he knows what it's like to actually get hit. It's just a shoulder shot (action movie shorthand for "the lightest gunshot wound available with or without a prescription", rather than massive trauma to ribs and shoulder blades that make bones look like a double handful of cornflakes worked over with a hammer). It still staggers him, but not enough to lose the fight to a hulking Colombian dude with one blind eye. I felt really bad for the stuntman who had to fall backwords into the Filth Trench that they were shooting in.

Speaking of feeling bad for people in this movie, the random guy talking to Colt earlier in this part of the film turns out to be shooting against her; he sets up a side bet with her before the fight. If she wins, he'll give her Red Dolan's last known whereabouts. If she loses, she's got to suck his dick. She agrees to the bet, because vengeance doesn't allow for much in the way of dignity. It turns out that pissing off your "shooting me from less than ten yards away" competition is a bad idea, incidentally; Colt empties her gun at the other man so fast that the referee forgets to start the count. Or perhaps "forgets" it. At this point in the movie I don't know what one of the fighters would do when they run out of bullets and the second person's still committed to participating in the match.

Colt doesn't do the “it's funny to hit someone in the groin” thing here, thank goodness, and presumably when the other guy can get up and move again he'll be telling her where to find the elusive Red Dolan. That night Colt and John are sharing a motel room and Colt wonders why John waited for his opponent to get around to shooting him when he drew fast enough that the match could have been his in a handful of seconds. Our young protagonist wanted to know what getting shot felt like, and says it was comparable to taking a punch, which not might be true but it's certainly appropriate--the name of the film, after all, is Blunt Force Trauma and not Horrible Gaping Bullet Wound.

Colt wants to take a look at the bruise, which means there's a second scene with a little something for the ladies (and some of the men, I'm sure) as Ryan Kwanten takes his shirt off. This time there's a really gnarly looking bruise with a raised impact point in the center--bright red and extremely painful looking. But now at least the guy knows what it felt like for someone to shoot him. We also get a title drop from Colt as she explains several of the awful things that blunt force trauma does to the human body--more to the audience than to John, who already knew about all that kind of thing academically. This scene avoids to worst of the "as you know, Bob," style of expository dialogue since both characters are just confirming something they both already knew while talking about it (and the movie knows this). But it's still kinda clunky. Speaking of clunky obligatory scenes, moments after John takes his shirt off to display his injury Colt takes him to bed, since he's got a nice body over the parts that aren't currently bruised and scarring.

The next day the pair are driving off to the next plot point and / or gunfight and Colt's speeding. She decides to make a run for it but instead of a movie-padding chase scene she gives up almost immediately when John points out that people who make car chase videos on YouTube don't get away, and she's probably not going to either. Yes, it's true that they have a bunch of guns and money in the car, but running won't make that problem go away. The cops shove John around violently and slam him down on the hood of the police car, while the one searching Colt decides to grope her while he's doing it. Oh, and then one of the officers finds the bag full of cash and John's pistol in the trunk. It's when the bulletproof vest gets discovered that things get kinda interesting--the cop who didn't grab Colt's ass wants to know if John's any good at the sport (neither officer even conceptualizes that a woman could compete on the circuit as far as I can tell).

The cops take John and another guy that was already cuffed in the back of their SUV to a derelict courtyard where one of them starts scuffing a pair of circles in the dirt (the subtitled dialogue right before they get there is meant to make the other criminal relax and let him know that he's not going to get executed out of hand, which is a pretty damning indictment of the Colombian law enforcement system). The police setting up their own private gladiatorial competition doesn't make 'em look any better, although it does look like one of the police thinks it's a bad idea and eye-fucks his partner. John puts on his old vest and tells the cops (and us, the viewers) that after a Kevlar vest has been shot, the fibers tear and it's not bulletproof any more. Interesting that we only hear about that roughly half an hour into the film, and bully for Ken Sanzel for not front-loading all the details about the equipment in the first scenes.

The petty thief almost gets himself ventilated when he pokes at the gun on his holster because the cops want him to draw at the end of the countdown, not before. Both officers also have their own guns pointed at the two unwilling combatants when the one who came up with this plan starts counting down from five (the shot of four armed men standing in a square is brief but rather impressive). Also, if I'm understanding it right, the underground dueling circuit is something that is common knowledge to the police but not to the really low-level criminals. That's interesting.

Before the ringleader cop can count down for the fight, John draws and shoots both police (hitting the Kevlar each time); the petty thief takes a pot shot at him and gets him in the bicep because he's not accurate enough to know what he's doing. John knocks that guy down too--and owes Colt a new vest because shooting hers twice probably made it useless. He scoops up his gear and walks off; the policeman who instigated the whole thing is actually really impressed with how fast and accurate John's shooting was. When he gets back to unlock Colt's handcuffs, she's worried that the pair of them are now cop killers--bad news in a country where the police appear to be the biggest gang around. Even worse news if the officers radioed in details about Colt's car before the whole thing went down. John assures her that they're merely cop wounders, but that's not great news either.

While getting his wounds treated at a clinic, John gets his shirt off again. The doctor dresses him down and points to some X-rays that show mild damage to his ribs, but tells him the next time he gets hit like he just did it could break his ribs and send bone splinters into his lungs. I hadn't really considered that kind of thing, but it makes a lot of sense that repeated massive shocks to the system would have negative effects. It also makes me wonder what kind of horrific damage was done to everyone in the earlier duels--especially every time someone emptied their gun at an opponent. Sure, nobody's dead, but there's only so much stress bones can take before they're irrevocably damaged. John figures that's not a big deal because he's not going to get hit again, and it's time to go to the old city. There's still an hour to go in the film, though, so he's probably got a life lesson or two to pick up before the big showdown with Zorringer.

The next duel plays out in silence over a generic alt-rock track; John wins that one easily against a twitchy grinning dude who takes multiple hits before stumbling down and losing. John doesn't seem to take much satisfaction in the win, and Colt watches silently as he takes off his vest and accosts the mysterious woman. She notes (without approval or disapproval) that he's got some battle scars now, and tells him that he doesn't want the fight, per se, but rather the adrenaline hit he gets right before the fight. Which could probably be addictive, and which has to be stronger now that John knows the consequences of getting shot--even with a vest on.

Whatever Zorringer's assistant sees in John, it's enough to tell him there's a $20,000 entrance fee to get a match with the mysterious Zorringer and that the official odds are five to one. Assuming he lives, that's not a bad nest egg for John but given that he's one of those Stoic Fight Guys, it's not like he's going to develop a taste for the finer things and stop dueling (or retire and open a used book store). There's still a week to go until the fight, though, and that means it's time for the vengeance plot to take over the narrative for a while. Red was in "the flats" a few days ago, wherever they are, and Colt wants to see if he's still there. John wants to know if Colt's planning to fight Red or just kill him, and she can't give a straight answer.

In the requisite dive bar, John finds out that there's a local match every Thursday by a dam, but he's got enough of a name for himself that the local guys won't fight him (one of the promoters mentions video of John from a previous match, but nobody in the film has used a cell phone camera or anything that I remember; the technology on display tends to be from the 1980s or so, which is another reason why I think of this flick as the kind of thing they tend not to make any more). So unless he offers odds that mean he's making less money from a win, John's just going to be a spectator at those duels.

While they're delivering exposition, the two fight promoters at the bar tell Colt that Red Dolan is dead; I honestly didn't see that coming. John and Colt bribe or sweet-talk their way into a morgue to view the body and John confirms that Colt's vengeance quest is officially futile without a Ghostbusters backpack. We learn a little bit about the back stories of the dueling circuit and Sonny (Colt's brother) during a "talking about stuff while on a swing set" scene; there used to be an underground pistol fighting scene in the States, and Sonny wanted to be as American as he could so he learned to shoot and turned out not to be fast enough to face Red (who, apparently, wasn't a cheater--the blunt force impact from his fight gave Sonny fatal kidney damage from a colossally unlucky shot). Colt isn't even sure if killing Red would have done anything and gets some rather on-the-nose dialogue about not grieving for her brother because her vengeance kept him alive.

Then she asks John about what's on the other side of his match with Zorringer, and he says there isn't another side to that. He also says the fight is "a moment of unambiguous perfection", which means that if we don't know anything about John's past or where he learned to fight, one thing is true:  He owns a word-a-day calendar. After their heart-to-heart Colt takes the vests and gun rigs out of the trunk of her car and says she's going to "achieve intimacy" with John--apparently the sex didn't quite do it earlier. (Some fun dialogue here, too:  "Don't tell me you haven't wondered." "Not really. I'd win.") Colt puts down a hundred bucks, since the code of the people who shoot each other for fun requires financial stakes before a match. John gets face-to-face to Colt, who pushes him back and they take their places for the duel. Incidentally, at least one of them is going to need to buy a new vest after this. I'm also not sure how they're going to decide when to draw with no referee, but they'll figure it out.

Oh, John just draws first and shoots Colt in the torso (she responds by nicking his ear, and then reholstering her gun out of recognition that she fouled out). John shoots her again but she refuses to fall, and the match result is ambiguous (as is their relationship status). Colt says she's heading home, and John's on his own getting to the old city now. Before she goes, John tells her that she was fast enough to beat Red Dolan, not that it actually matters at this point. She drives away and leaves John on the playground to figure out how he's going to get to the next waypoint on his journey (turns out it's in the back of one of those old pickup trucks carrying passengers that I've never actually seen in real life). John sees another truck on the road with a bulletproof vest in the bed and hops off to see what kind of action is going down. The first thing he sees at the grounds is a hipster looking guy getting carried to a pickup truck by his friends and carried off for medical treatment and the second thing he sees is another duelist who notices his particular gun rig and says nobody's going to offer decent odds for the match.

Then, inevitably, the tout tells John that there is one guy that he might be able to get decent odds on, and it's a huge black dude "slow as justice", who hasn't ever been knocked down before regardless of how many times he was shot. John decides to take the chance and the two men square off in a dusty, dirt-floored horse pen (the circle is a bunch of knives stuck in the ground this time--I like how each arena has its own particular way of handling that). The guy who isn't John offers a ten-count to get back up instead of the customary five as a gesture of good will (and also says that John's going to need it). When the match starts, John shoots the guy six times and his opponent doesn't even move his feet. Then you get to see a really nice "oh shit" face on Ryan Kwanten when the other guy draws his gun. And then empties the clip at him (ten shots versus John's six), hitting his vest each time. And now we learn that duelists are allowed to reload after expending all their shots as John tries to get more bullets in his revolver and get back into the circle before he loses. John takes a second full clip from the other guy and gets back on his feet with one second to go before losing the match, reloads and empties his own gun a third time at the previously unstoppable guy whose name we never actually learn. he wins (even with massive favoritism from the officiator and the audience, who go so far as to throw another magazine to the huge dude when he needs more bullets) and staggers off to feel more pain than he ever has in his life.

He wakes up in the middle of the night when someone walks up to the stable where he's sleeping off his ass-whooping and it inevitably turns out to be Colt (who agrees that he won't get taken to a doctor). Colt is still following "the boards" online, and there was video of the cross-draw Colt Python guy and a huge dude killing each other. Well, it's the internet. People exaggerate (but I don't have to, because Checkpoint Telstar gets more traffic than Google and PornHub put together). As John recovers ("I'm pissing less blood" is a good sign, right?) he and Colt go for brief walks and talk a little bit, but they're still rather distant from each other. Apparently whoever owns the horse farm is willing to let John recover there, or it's an abandoned place that just gets used for duels because it's a convenient spot.

John finally reveals a piece of his past while sitting out at night watching Colt's improper meat grilling technique. He worked at a big-box appliance store selling TVs and computers (which means that the Forty Year Old Virgin and he share a secret origin). Colt's not interested in that any more, though, so they just wind up in bed together and John charts his recovery over the next couple of days by finding out whether he's experiencing agony or just pain when he lifts his arms or tries to exercise. John also started out watching the matches (I presume in the American matches before they got shut down) and bought his gun and holster from a guy who found out he couldn't hack it during a match where he got shot twice. After getting in the circle and finding out he was born for back-alley close range pistol duels, John just sorta fell into the life. Even though he's got days of painful recovery and nights of Colt sharing his bed, it looks like he still wants to go back into the circuit (and he only has a few days to make up his mind unless he can get an extension on his application with Zorringer's HR manager). There's the inevitable cleaning-the-gun-and-target-shooting montage as he tries to determine if he's lost his nerve, of course.

Colt drives John to the designated meeting spot and there's already a few gunfighters waiting there having lunch (including the first Asian guy in the cast). Everyone's waiting for Zorringer to come by, which could be any day now. But it isn't today, so everyone can just wait and get nervous and psych themselves out if they feel like it--which is a pretty solid tactic for Zorringer if he wants to stay on top of things. There's zero conversation among the duelists at the cafe, and John decides on coffee and eggs rather than a beer for breakfast (solid thinking!). But everyone at Zorringer's threshold is in hurry-up-and-wait mode, and time stretches on. Then his manager / talent scout drives up in a bright red Humvee, picks up the Asian guy (who hasn't had a single syllable of dialogue) and drives off to parts unknown. The various remaining fighters and their girlfriends just wait at the cafe looking at the rain. Colt goes off for a walk, not that there's a hell of a lot to see around the cafe, just for something to do. Turns out that if proving you're good at getting shot is all that there is in your life, there's not a heck of a lot else going on (and the psych-out theory gains a little credence when John reveals that he's had trouble sleeping).

He wakes up quick enough when Colt discovers that another contestant who hasn't had any dialogue got his throat cut and his buy-in money swiped. Better yet, there's a few more criminals lurking around seeing what else they can get. But Colt and John turn out to be fast and accurate shots, as we in the audience already knew. Of course, this event was more freestyle than regimented, but none of the criminals even get a shot off before they're all dead. The cafe owner says everything's fine, it's just that some times people waiting for an audience with Zorringer get murdered for their cash. The police won't be a problem (and isn't that reassuring?). Colt fires up a spliff to mellow out after the attack and decides to leave so that John can face his destiny (and get killed by Zorringer) without further distractions.

But the movie's not going to have John decide not to get shot at this point, so it's just too bad for Colt if she wants him to stay safe. Or even to stay a winner, because losing to Zorringer means that John won't be the same person he was before. That's presuming that Zorringer's conquests don't all kick the oxygen habit when they lose, of course. The henchwoman drives up, as she inevitably was going to, and takes John off to his match just as Colt drives away. There's probably something here about how Colt and the unnamed woman scouting fighters for Zorringer are both driving bright red vehicles (one gas-huffing SUV and one sports car), but I'm not entirely sure what that would be.

John is escorted into the palatial "south of the border rich eccentric action movie antagonist" villa and sees Zorringer (Mickey Rourke! He's occupying the "star that the movie could afford for a couple of days" role here), feeding his pet parrot Joe (which will make most of the people watching this flick think of Mickey Rourke in the second Iron Man movie and his pet cockatoo. Maybe Mickey Rourke really just likes pet birds). Zorringer turns out to have a classical education (speaking a Latin motto as he looks out the view from his deck) and describing a ladder to heaven that Saint Perpetua climbed after stepping on a dragon. John doesn't quite get the point of the story (Zorringer:  "I don't want to be no fucking dragon"). And we finally get an origin story for the sport (which has never been named anything by any of the characters in the film so far; they just do it, they don't give it a clever name). Turns out the drug cartels had a vested interest in knowing whether or not any of their bulletproof armor was actually worth a damn. They paid desperate poor people 100 pesos to strap on different manufacturers' vests and shoot at each other; eventually there were standardized rules to prevent things from being too dangerous and reckless. Yeah, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense to me either.

John says he was never playing for stakes, but rather for "the moment of form and grace". I can't tell if Zorringer is impressed or not, but he sets dawn the next day for the match instead of just shutting John down completely. The mystery woman lets herself into John's room wearing lingerie in a shot that was destined to be in the trailer if this movie came out in 1988 theatrically, and although he says he doesn't want her, it certainly appears that he gets her. Maybe this whole Zorringer dueling thing is a way to feed her fetish for doomed masculinity. That makes Zorringer a really good boyfriend if I'm right. At any rate, his hands aren't quite shaking when he picks up his pistol for the morning's duel, but even without using his face or voice Mickey Rourke is a skilled enough actor to communicate his character's apprehension in the face of another duel. You're only the greatest in the world at something for so long. Then you're the guy who used to be the greatest. And if you're doing gunfights from twenty feet away there's an excellent chance that you're going to die right after you find out you're the guy who used to be the greatest.

Zorringer and Joe hike off to a clearing where the woman is already waiting for them. The older man takes a moment to look back at his house while the woman inspects his gun, making sure the bullets are standard loads. And although neither character mentioned it, Zorringer neglected to bring hist vest along for this duel; John silently discards the one Colt bought for him. Both men holster their weapons and face each other, with John removing his shirt to have absolutely no protection whatsoever. The impact bruises he's sporting over his chest and back look hideous. He closes his eyes and waits for the signal; it's that moment of grace and form he was living for.

Sports movies only have two endings--either the protagonists win or they almost win. And the way that Blunt Force Trauma wraps up, I'm not entirely sure if John or Zorringer is the one who found what he was looking for, or if both of them did. And that's what makes this film, at the end, something much better than the B list programmer that I was anticipating or that I thought the movie was going to be over almost all of its run time. It's got room in its soul for a little meditation and a little reflection on exactly what it takes to become a person driven to succeed at a self-destructive task and I honestly would have expected Colt to stick around as the concerned girlfriend instead of taking off when it becomes obvious that John is utterly set on his path.

I see that Ken Salzel has directed two other movies (one about a Wild West show actor facing down a biker gang, which sounds like it's going to have a look at artifice and heroism that might fit in quite well with what I saw in this flick. It's rare to find a kinda thoughtful movie, and even less so to find one when it's about people getting into gunfights over and over again. It's like a Roger Corman movie, back when even his ripoffs were aiming high and he was trying to make sure the audience got full value for its ticket price.

So:  Thank you, Scott. This was a heck of a Telstar Day present.


  1. The fact that you and I have Hard Times, Roadhouse, Robot Jox, Diggstown, and Cage as movies listed, if not as "favorites", at least as "movies we like", I'm going to have to search this one out. To bad you won't get on the Ice Pirates bandwagon, Tim. Plenty of room!

  2. Well, Diggstown, Hard Times and Road House are favorites. Robot Jox is a movie I love but can't defend. It's a little bit outside your normal wheelhouse thanks to it being a gunfighter movie rather than a boxing one but I can't imagine you won't like it.