Review by Sean Boelman
The straight-to-VOD action movie is a genre that often offers a ton of trash, but sometimes you find a diamond in the rough. This is not a review of one such gem. One Day as a Lion boasts a star-studded cast and a talented action director, but all of this is put to waste on a script that is uninteresting beyond belief.
The film follows a man who, in a desperate attempt to raise the money to bail his son out of jail, takes a job collecting money for a mob boss, only for things to go sideways, kicking off a series of interconnected crimes. If nothing else, this is the type of crime movie that should at least be mindlessly entertaining, but it’s so convoluted and uninspired that it’s not even remotely fun to watch.
The biggest issue with this movie is that it lacks a consistent tone. It often feels like the film is meant to be comedic, but it’s not particularly funny. Other times, it seems as if it is trying to be a serious, kaleidoscopic crime thriller a la Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately, it’s effective at neither, because it’s too dull to be a good comedy and too goofy to be taken with a straight face.
Even more damning is that the movie is sorely lacking in action. What Swab does best is directing gritty action, and there are only a few action sequences here — most of which are rather dull shootouts. There simply isn’t enough excitement to be found here, meaning that it struggles to hold the viewer’s interest, even with a sub-90 minute runtime.
The two leads, Scott Caan and Marianne Rendón, are both pretty awful. Caan is particularly surprising given that he wrote the script, so you would think he would be passionate about the role. Unfortunately, nepotism’s dirty fingers are at work here, because his performance is completely lacking in personality.
Swab’s regular collaborator Frank Grillo takes a supporting role here, playing a New York mobster who is pulling the strings and is the force behind the film’s conflict. Although Grillo’s delivery is on-point as usual, the character is so generic and blandly written that even Grillo can’t save it.
The ensemble also features Virginia Madsen and J.K. Simmons who are just… there? Although their characters are essential for the plot to move along, they effectively could have been played by anyone just as well. Sure, Madsen and Simmons are both excellent performers and lend their personalities (and profile) to the movie, but they’re roles that feel somewhat fluffy.
For most of his films, John Swab has shown a talent for taking B-movie material and making something genuinely enjoyable out of it. One Day as a Lion does not benefit from his talents, as the material is so generic and bland that no amount of decent direction could have saved it.
One Day as a Lion is now in theaters and hits VOD on April 7.