“Grenades are fun. You take it easy.”
Despite the appeal of rubbernecking at a car wreck, I have never seen an Uwe Boll film. Whether back when the infamous German tax break scheme was in effect on his videogame adaptations or more recently with extreme violence and attempted social satire, I’ve always found something better to view. But when his newest thriller Assault on Wall Street (previously known as Bailout: The Age of Greed) came across my desk, I thought maybe the “auteur” had found his stride. Maybe he was ready to give all those critics he threatened to and literally did box a reason to care about his work. The content was relevant, the subject matter dramatic without an underlying humor, and the cast a fun mix of familiar TV faces. I should have kept that belief pure, however, and never pressed play.
Admittedly, this film isn’t unequivocally horrible. Early desire to set up the serious circumstances surrounding Wall Street’s fleecing of the American public and the regular Joe victims finding their lives spiraling out of control proves effective until eventually languishing in Boll’s overwrought montages of silent emotion. I felt for Jim (Dominic Purcell) and his wife Rosie’s (Erin Karpluk) plight, understanding the pressures of unavoidable illness and the yearning to hope love can truly conquer all. Finally receiving a clean bill of health where her tumors were involved, a few months of hormone treatment promise the green light on pregnancy and building a family. But happy thoughts soon disappear when their insurance cap is hit, their life savings are lost courtesy of faulty investments, and a sixty grand bill for owed interest on their shares is drawn.
We then watch Jim go through the motions that any intelligent, hardworking individual would. He meets with his broker (Lochlyn Munro) who lightheartedly jokes he lost money too—bye bye Barbados vacation; enlists the help of a lawyer asking for a ten thousand dollar retainer to file an injunction (Eric Roberts); and looks to talk to anyone who may be able to help while continuing to accrue credit card debt on his wife’s treatments. Bad becomes worse, debt escalates fast as the corporations he wants to sue become protected under bankruptcy, and his very life gets turned upside down until he’s jobless and alone with nothing else on his mind besides revenge. A throwaway line about military disability comes full circle as he takes a gun from his closet and a quest for retribution commences.
It’s this final twenty minutes of carnage that proves to be Assault on Wall Street‘s shining moment. Purcell has always excelled at being the heavy leaving destruction in his wake and the pinpoint precision of his aim combined with an icy cold demeanor is catered to his strengths. Surprisingly, the actor isn’t too shabby in the hour leading up to this climax either. It’s the pacing and weird editing choice of splicing events out of order that hurts any momentum the performance may have tried to build. There is literally a ten-minute segment in the middle of the film with Purcell looking forlorn and helpless as he ignores phone calls, listens to the media talk about the financial crisis, and gives a thousand yard stare while Jessica de Rooij‘s score plays. Everything could have been much tighter minus a good half hour.
Boll tries to surround his lead with a support group of compassionate friends—Edward Furlong, Michael Paré, and Keith David all strive to be effective—but the script does no one any favors. Maybe there’s a language barrier at play but so many of the conversations are stilted and overwritten when not laughably stereotypical. Furlong comes off as a stoner BFF with a vocabulary consisting of 80% curses and even screws up a joke. The reaction from the other actors is so uproarious that I wouldn’t be surprised to find the flub was unintentional since I’m not sure Boll could have written it so effectively. Hell, one of the newspaper clippings Purcell prominently pins to his wall of “criminals” contains the headline “Risky Maneouver Pays Off”. Is that a European spelling?
For anyone expecting a wall-to-wall bloody mess, disappointment is all you’ll find. Anyone like me who hoped for an actual story won’t fair much better when minimal exposition is bloated and stretched far beyond its means. There are many questionable stylistic choices made, some of the actors like Roberts are way too over-the-top in their delivery, and the parallel plot thread of John Heard‘s money manager screwing clients so he can line the pockets of his employees is entirely unnecessary once we understand he’s responsible for selling Jim the real estate venture that ruins him. Boll either seems unsure he’s explained himself well enough and therefore adds extra redundant information or is so intent on delivering his opinion on American free trade that he gets overexcited and sprawling.
It’s a shame because the concept is solid for an action flick many citizens could have a vested interest in by vicariously attaining their own vengeance for lost savings. Purcell and especially Karpluk project a sympathetic image audiences can rally behind and when bullets start to fly we do find ourselves enjoying the carnage as men and women who believe they’re above the law find themselves at the wrong end of a vigilante’s gun. But while the titular assault is entertaining and ultimately exaggerated enough to be farce above vicious fantasy, the build up suffers from trying too hard to be dramatic. This is one Boll flick that may have been helped by being more of a romp than serious thriller because he just doesn’t have the chops to effectively earn manipulative heartstring tugs.