Lights Out (2024)

by - February 16th, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Lights Out Pulls its Punches

Michael “Duffy” Duffield (Frank Grillo) saunters into Lights Out as if he stepped off of the set of 1982’s First Blood. He quickly follows that up with his best Jean-Claude Van Damme impression circa 1990’s Lionheart, the former soldier making a go of it on the underground Los Angeles street fighting circuit lorded over by smooth-talking businessman Sage Parker (Dermot Mulroney). Things fast-forward from there into Heat-meets-Sabotage territory when Duffy and his new friend Max Bomer (Mekhi Phifer) run awful of a cadre of dirty cops led by decorated detective Ellen Ridgway (Jaime King).

Lights Out (2024) | PHOTO: Quiver Distribution

Those are the basics. There are some brief flashbacks to a Middle East mission gone wrong that Duffy was a part of, but it’s only here to introduce that character’s PTSD and make sure the viewer knows genre superstar Scott Adkins — portraying a character with the apropos nickname “The Reaper” — will pop up at some point to unleash Hell. We also have a subplot concerning Bomer’s sister Rachel (Erica Peeples), her teenage daughter Hannah (Jailyn Rae), and a missing bag filled with money belonging to those bent cops, but nothing happens there that I didn’t see coming the moment the entire narrative strand was first introduced.

With a cast this strong — on paper, the pairing up of Grillo and Adkins should be an instant winner — and a scenario this tried and true, there’s no reason Lights Out shouldn’t be a solidly entertaining and suitably muscular B-grade actioner. Pack in some pulpy melodrama, stage a handful of inventive fight sequences, end things with an energetic shootout, and edit it all so the prowess of the actors and stunt performers can take center stage, and that’s pretty much all director Christian Sesma had to do to achieve success. Pity he fails.

There are exceptions, and with action veterans like Grillo and Adkins hanging around, how could there not be? But frustratingly there are not enough of them. Once Chad Law and Garry Charles’s screenplay moves away from the underground fight circuit and begins to focus more on Detective Ridgway’s crooked compatriots, things become less and less interesting. Worse, the film is honestly a bit boring (and it’s not even 90 minutes long), especially during the climactic act, and that takes some doing when you have Adkins standing there ready to rip every potential adversary to shreds.

That’s probably the most egregious misstep. Why put Adkins in this thing if you’re going to use him as some sort of brawny red herring? You keep waiting for The Reaper to go to town on the bad guys but it never happens. There’s a brief bit during the Middle East flashback where we get to see the veteran low-budget action star do minor variations on all of the butt-kicking fans have come to expect from him, but these scenes are still nothing spectacular. But during the climax? Right when we want to see him cut loose? He doesn’t get the chance to do it. Talk about disappointing.

Lights Out (2024) | PHOTO: Quiver Distribution

The other major gaffe is making King the primary villain and not Mulroney. She’s a charisma black hole sitting at the center of things while he’s a beguiling menace ready to chew the scenery with fiery panache if the screenplay would give him the room to do so. It’s as if King is in a different picture than everyone else, and while I laud her attempts to try and realistically ground the material, her efforts fall laughably flat.

Grillo and Phifer do have chemistry, and their instant friendship is like something out of a 1940s John Ford Western combined with a 1980s Walter Hill neo-noir. I also liked how Sesma doesn’t try to make Duffy into anything other than an unstoppable badass every time he steps into a ring to fight. I never thought he was in danger of losing a bout, and that’s a good thing, the character’s cocksure gravitas adding a layer of brutally palpable menace that worked for me.

But for Grillo, give me either of his Purge entries any day over this uninspired retread. As for Adkins, between brutal favorites like AvengementAccident Man, and the recent One More Shot (not to mention his scene-stealing turn as the unstoppably larger-than-life Killa in John Wick: Chapter 4), other than the obvious paycheck, I’m baffled by what drew him to this forgettable piece of genre schlock in the first place. Lights Out is a waste of time.

Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)

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