Tara Macken, the star of indie action comedy Intensive Care, makes an effective and engaging heroine, as her character Alex takes on three would-be safe robbers in the home of the elderly woman she cares for.
I say three. Only two, Seth and Rudy, are any use. The third – Danny – is so wimpish one imagines his whole criminal career has probably involved stealing candy from a baby, which he’d then justify on dental grounds.
This time though the stakes turn out to be much higher than he anticipated – as a quick robbery turns into a home invasion fightback with an opponent as determined to see things through to the end as the thieves are to finish her off once and for all. And there’s a lot of brutal fighting, interspersed with comic scenes which vary in how well they work.
A stuntwoman as well as an actress (her long and very impressive list of stunt credits includes doubling for Tessa Thompson in the upcoming Men In Black: International), Macken makes sure all Alex’s fight scenes are exciting. Director Jared Bentley has ensured her main opponent Rudy may not be able to match her in nimble footwork and hand-to-hand combat but he has brawn, size and a gun on his side.
Both Alex and Rudy are ex-military, though her skills are as much watching and planning as whacking and kicking. It means it’s never a given whether a particular fight will go one way or the other.
Alex’s client, Claire (a melodramatic but enjoyably cantankerous Leslie Easterbrook), is dying. But she’s certainly not planning to go gentle into that good night, as her narcissistic and greedy grandson Danny (Jai Rodriguez) discovers when he comes to pay his respects to his expiring wealthy relative.
He soon catches sight of the safe crammed full of $100 bills, a situation too tempting to ignore for a man drowning in debt and with a huge entitlement complex; and teams up with two violent accomplices. (I didn’t like Danny. He’s funny, but he also pretends to like Alex, taking her out on a date so the coast is clear for the burglary. Not on my watch, Danny!)
It’s when Alex disturbs Rudy (Jose Rosete) and Seth (Kevin Sizemore) that the drawn-out violent confrontation kicks off; every fight finishing with a pause, before one or the other throws themselves back into the fray. It’s cat and mouse where who is on top flips with a well-timed kick or an off-guard moment.
Unfortunately the aggression from Rudy and Seth encompasses a sadism that makes the film’s comedy harder to swallow. Tonally, it’s very uneven, for example when everyone suddenly teams up to defeat a caller at the door followed by sudden and staggering violence. They also do some very dumb things.
It’s possible to create very funny, very violent films, or very violent films with moments of black humour or lighthearted comedy to allow us a few seconds to breath again. “Are you here for the Pope?” in John Wick: Chapter 2 springs to mind, but in that film the people getting killed aren’t innocent but part of a bloody world. Here people die because of the sadism of two of the characters (an early victim is entirely blameless).
To be fair, first time director Bentley is trying to tread a tricky line in balancing the two. If he’d pulled it off (it needed more rounded characters and tighter direction) it would be a gloriously batshit B-movie fill with blood and gags (think geriatric Home Alone meets Wick), and the errors the characters make would be easily glossed over. (When indie films fall short in some way it is of course often budget-related; Intensive Care was made for only $75,000 and in a mere 14 days. That kind of movie-making money isn’t even low budget, it’s micro budget; worth remembering who you watch a below-expectations multi million pound studio film.)
There are still some good comedy moments thanks to Rodriguez, whose character Danny is a self-satisfied manboy, way out of his depth and shallower than a puddle. Rodriguez nevertheless stops him becoming a caricature. “I’m just visiting my grandmother”, he says to Seth and Rudy. “How is she?” “She’s…. still alive”.
Seth and Rudy look very alike and in the end I had to go by which one had the triangular sideburns. Their motivations are brutally clear: cold hard cash, and the simple enjoyment they get from inflicting pain on other people.
What I didn’t understand was Alex’s motivation for coming back when she could run. Protecting her cantankerous employer? Getting back at the men who tried to kill her and still want to? Unfinished business? The money? None of them really make sense on their own (and she could have absconded with the cash at any time – she seems too have been working there for a while). We find out some back story about what she endured while in the military, but not really what motivates her or indeed what kind of person she is beyond being a self-reliant loner.
But as an experienced stuntwoman Macken knows exactly what she’s doing and it shows. There’s a great shot where she’s fighting with one of the men while both are attached to a rope being pulled along by a runaway truck, and she has some enjoyable revenge moments.
It’s always good to see stunt performers come out of the shadows (and for low budget indie films it makes the action scenes more realistic). I’d like to see more of her.
Note: There is a mid-credits scene.
Watch the trailer for Intensive Care: