Saturday, December 17, 2022

As Good as Dead, Written by and Starring Michael Jai White

I'm not in the business of advising drug cartels, but generally speaking, when an old enemy like Michael Jai White goes off the grid, I’d let him stay vanished. Instead, they go out looking for him for him where he is hiding-out south of the border in R. Ellis Frazier’s As Good as Dead, written by its star, Michael Jai White, which is now available on VOD.

Bryant, a former cop and DEA agent, busted a drug-running and human-trafficking ring run by corrupt copper Sonny Kilbane. Even though Kilbane is currently in prison, he had his thugs go after Bryant and his wife, so he cut ties and disappeared down to Mexico. He now works anonymously as a surveyor (a nice detail), whose desert workout routines inspire straight-and-narrow Oscar, who is bullied by his soon-to-be-paroled brother Hector’s fellow gang members.

Much to his surprise, Bryant agrees to tutor Oscar in his distinctive Muay Thai-ish style of martial arts. When the Mexican teen unleashes his sensei’s moves at an underground steel cage match, some cell phone footage goes viral. Naturally, Kilbane sends a team of assassins after Oscar, hoping to find Bryant. Unfortunately for them, they will—but more hit squads will follow.

The basic premise is pretty familiar to VOD action fans, but
As Good as Dead has two things going for it—and they are both Michael Jai White. As an action star, he still has all his chops and looks just as chiseled as ever. He also wrote some surprisingly clever lines, especially when he and Hector riff on action movies. It is too bad there isn’t more of this attitude, because it really helps elevate the film.

Still, it is always fun watching White kick butts. He and Guillermo Ivan also develop some decent odd couple action chemistry, when Bryant and Hector team-up. Frankly, Luca Oriel is pretty good as Oscar, even though his character is not particularly distinguished. Plus, VOD veterans Tom Berenger and Louis Mandylor (in his fourth film we’ve reviewed this year) appropriately chew the scenery as Kilbane and his money manager, Piro.

Of course, this film is all about White doing his thing. In this case, that also includes contributing some sharply penned dialogue. In some ways, this film is sort of like his version of
The Marksman or Rambo: Last Blood, in which a “seasoned” hardnose takes on Mexican cartels to protect the innocence, but it never goes for an equivalent level of emotion. One could argue that makes it more honest. Regardless, if you enjoy beatdowns and shoot-outs, it is solidly entertaining, in an unfussy way. Recommended for fans of White and the genre, As Good as Dead is now available on VOD.