Acceleration review: Dolph Lundgren, Natalie Burn, fast cars and lots of explaining

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Dolph Lundgren and some very fast cars feature in Acceleration, and here’s our review of the new action movie.

Acceleration opens with a violent melee where Dolph Lundgren ends up having a fistfight with Ultimate Fighting Championship legend Chuck Liddell. That’s some way to ask for our attention. It’s a good fight, too, with Liddell throwing his patented overhand punch and Lundgren landing plenty of blows of his own as the two scrap and grapple.

We then hop back in time to the start of the film where Rhona (Natalie Burn) is in something of a pickle. Mobster Vladik (Dolph Lundgren) has kidnapped her son and assigned her five tasks which she’ll have to complete by the morning if she wants the boy back. Think Challenge Anneka, but then stop thinking it as soon as you can. Rhona is a skilled fighter and a wicked shot to boot, but knocking off Vladik’s rivals and pulling together money for him lands her in the middle of his feud with violent rival Kane (Sean Patrick Flanery). She just wants her son back!

If you sometimes buy direct-to-video action movies from supermarkets, the ones in cardboard sleeves that feature a big name from 1980s or 90s action cinema where you can’t tell if they’re gonna be the main character or if they’ll just pop up in one scene, that’s what Acceleration is like. Dolph Lundgren is your big name here and he has a fairly substantial supporting role.

Natalie Burn is your lead. Her Rhona is resourceful and tough, amusingly written as an unflinching badass who, we’re informed, hates cuddling. She probably thinks kittens are rubbish, too. It’s hard to pull much from Burn’s performance. She’s well up to the physical side of the show, performing athletic and exciting fight sequences, but she’s not well served by the script for much of the run time.

She’s on the receiving end of so many speeches from baddies with too much testosterone and too many lines that you’d forgive her for dozing off from time to time. Plus, every third line she says is her explaining that she just wants to know that her son is still alive. The lad has been kidnapped by Dolph Lundgren, so it’s hard to get on side with her. People pay upwards of £50 to meet Dolph Lundgren on the convention circuit. £60 if they’re after a picture(star), which to be fair he doesn’t seem interested in.

Meanwhile, the gangsters are monologuing again. Goodness me, they don’t seem to want to stop. Acceleration is a hike with frequent diversions into dark, cavernous asides of frowning toughs and heavies talking at us for what feels like weeks at a time in a never-ending drawl of threats and clichés. This movie is packed wall-to-wall with highly-dangerous, furrow-browed chatterboxes and I have to tell you, I wish it wasn’t.  

Sean Patrick Flanery throws his whole body into the big swing he takes at the character Kane. He attempts to bully the material into shape, furiously dragging it across the screen at every opportunity. As a result, he fairs far better than some of his co-stars, who aren’t able to muster much interest from the flailing script.

Dolph Lundgren, of course, doesn’t struggle. He’s too smooth. He all but winks at us as he slides across the screen emitting so much cool that this reviewer had to pop a cardigan on to combat the chill. Lundgren’s never really gotten a fair shake amongst action stars, in spite of stealing entire first Expendables film, but he’s a really charismatic performer. He doesn’t do an incredible amount in Acceleration, but he’s on screen a fair amount and is a pleasure to watch even when he is just milling about at his hyper-techno computer desk.

Acceleration is the kind of film where it feels like Vinnie Jones or Danny Trejo could pop up at any second. Daring to dream, at times you wonder whether someone might open a door to reveal Steven Seagal sat behind a desk in a suit and sunglasses, ready to have a right old ramble at us. In fact, Danny Trejo does make an appearance, if only for one scene, although there’s no sign of Vinnie Jones or Steven Seagal. Trejo is, as always, a delight to watch and has one of the very best faces in cinema.

Acceleration works best when it just goes. The fights sequences are actually great. They’re well-choreographed with brutal strikes, and they flow together nicely, all shot and edited clearly too. The shootouts are good fun, with the whacked out aim of all the henchmen playing as a forgivable, fun action movie foible rather than a flaw. I don’t know about you, but when I’m cheering on a good fist fight I’m far more inclined towards forgiving narrative problems.

There are flashes of visual invention and a few attempts at being stylish, even if you suspect they might have been cribbed from the John Wick films. If the influence of John Wick is making low budget action films more style conscious then we have even more reason to be thankful for the action-thriller franchise.

In fact, when directors Michael Merino and Daniel Zirilli (working from a script written by Merino) utilise pace in the first half of the movie that it’s fun enough to forgive the writing flaws. Unfortunately, they hit a wall at around the 45 minute marks and the film derails. You end up really feeling the monologue-bloated hour and 20 minute runtime. If a film like this could clock in at an hour and still find a release, you’d probably end up with a better movie.

There are so many uninteresting plot twists and double crosses that you end up wading through the end of the film. Adopting, or falling into, a pace that gives you time to interrogate what’s happening serves to badly deflate the viewing experience. The stuff that passes as silly fun in the first half becomes a series of eye-roll inducing irritants as you wait for things to wrap up.

Somewhere along the lines of Haywire meets Threat Level Midnight, then, Acceleration, then, is a low budget action movie that’s a real good time when it works. A film that thrives when it employs simplicity – good fights, cool action characters – becomes bogged down with a messy, chaotic and bloated script.

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