“The Handler” is an earnest, albeit deeply flawed, low-budget take on the “one-man army” genre of action/thriller.
Outside of horror films, my primary go-to for on-screen entertainment is action flicks. Yes, many of them are chock-full of ridiculous premises, full of bad one-liners and improbable physics & physiology…but damn if they’re not entertaining.
And, at the end of the day, they’re no less believable than Lifetime Network movies.
Much like horror, the action genre is very much a haven for up-and-coming filmmakers to hone their craft, practically begging for low-budget auteurs to take a crack. Plus, many horror fans aren’t very picky, and the same goes for action aficionados.
Just because action movie fans can be pretty forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be.
This brings me to The Handler, an absolute train-wreck of a film.
And no, this isn’t one of those “so bad it’s good” types of offerings. This one is just plain bad.
To be honest, I hate having to type those words.
It’s obvious that the cast and crew genuinely tried here. Actor Chris Levine certainly looks the part, there are a couple of moments of halfway decent action, and actress Rachel Alig has far more range than this film deserves. It even starts with a strong Drive vibe, replete with the pink font on the title.
But those are honestly the only bright spots to be found.
I’m not one of those reviewers who loves to tear down someone’s hard work. Far from it. I actively hate leaving negative reviews. But when the shoe fits…
And boy does the shoe fit.
The Handler is a film about an ex-marine, Ryker Dune (action movie name generator working overtime), who seeks refuge in a safe house after he deliberately throws a job in order to get out from under the heel of a criminal organization. It’s a decent concept and one that the movie itself never actually tells you. I had to find out that he actively threw the job by reading the IMDb synopsis.
What is the job? We never know. How did he go about throwing it? Dunno. What is the criminal organization’s agenda? Shoulder shrugs.
Not that we truly need to know the why/how, but even through frequent flashbacks attempt to inject some gravitas to the proceedings, much of what was transpiring was a mystery.
It’s incredibly difficult to care about the outcome of things when we are given very little motivation to do so.
The entire movie plays out in this fashion; action scene, rest, flashback, action scene, rest, flashback, action scene…you get the picture. Except that it seems that The Handler takes place in the middle of a Los Angeles suburb (we are shown the safe house in question, surrounded by other homes).
So let me break down some of the reasons I struggled with this movie.
First, after nearly each action scene, former Marine Ryker lays down on the bed/couch/whatever and takes a nap or a shower. Like, he’s got goons swarming the place pretty consistently, and it’s somehow frequently naptime? Ummmmm…
And speaking of the swarming, it’s unintentionally hilarious. The goons show up almost like clockwork, usually in teams of twos and threes, and are quickly dispatched. It’s almost like they all have appointments for a specific time, and aren’t allowed to hang out with the rest of the crew. So, they invariably show up under-manned to take out Ryker and are dispatched in occasionally believable ways.
But you know, if any of these dumb bastards could just text a few of the other groups, and if they could just all show up TOGETHER, then Ryker wouldn’t stand a chance. But no…everyone needs to take turns for some reason.
Such polite scumbags they are. Oh, and some of them are wearing jungle camo. In the city. In the middle of the day. Yeah…
Do the cops come scrambling in response to all this weapon fire in the heart of a middle-class neighborhood? Nope. Not. A. Single. One. Villains are dropping like flies, and nary a black-and-white to be seen.
And not only does Ryker dispatch said villains, but he then takes their bodies to the backyard and burns them.
I mean, that behavior made sense back in medieval times during a protracted siege, but this dude is actively BURNING heaps of corpses just behind his suburban home.
Again, no cops, no ambulances. No hungry dogs sniffing around all that cooked meat.
At that point I was legitimately asking the screen “what the fuck?!”, and this from a guy who HATES talking during a movie.
They even went so far as to try and recreate the handclasp and mid-air arm-wrestling match between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers from 1987’s Predator. And I thought, surely, they can’t be serious. But they were serious…and their names aren’t Shirley.
I could keep going on and on, but I won’t. Just one last observation.
Near the end of the movie, as Ryker is facing the last wave of baddies, he takes refuge behind a love seat. And somehow the bad guys, armed with automatic weapons, are emptying round after round at said furniture. And Ryker is completely safe. Unharmed. Untouched.
Folks, high-caliber rounds from automatic rifles can (despite what movies sometimes show you) punch right through cars. A fabric love seat certainly wouldn’t even slow a bullet down. Yet not a single bullet manages to penetrate. That’s not just lazy filmmaking…it’s nearly criminal negligence.
On the technical side, nothing to report.
For a low-budget film, the cinematography isn’t bad. Gun special effects are halfway decent. Sound is never really an issue.
But it’s clear that The Handler was made during COVID times, with moments of interaction that SHOULD be taking place between two characters very obviously being shot separately.
As much as it pains me, I can’t recommend this one. I didn’t completely HATE it, despite several solid attempts made by the film, but I certainly want to put it behind me.
Or take it out back and burn it.