‘Killing Season’ is just mediocre enough to be forgotten

Killing Seasonimages (1)
Directed by Mark Steven Johnon
Written by Evan Daughtery
2013, USA

It’s difficult to say exactly what sort of movie Millennium Films was intending with Killing Season. Seen in one light, it’s a drama wherein two A-list actors play veteran soldiers scarred by the horrors of war, the sort of film that plays well in the middle of December. In a different light, it’s an action film in which two trained killers play a game of cat-and-mouse, the sort of R-rated fare that occasionally makes for a surprise summer action hit. It’s not quite good enough to be considered for Oscar season, and not quite bad enough to get a January burial. It’s just mediocre enough to get pounded into submission by a July blockbuster debuting on the same weekend.

Robert de Niro plays a retired American colonel whose wilderness retreat is interrupted by the arrival of a dangerous Serbian counterpart with mysterious motives played by John Travolta. Perhaps “John Travolta playing Serbian” sounds like an immediate recipe for disaster; indeed, Travolta is burdened with a ludicrous chinstrap beard and affects an accent which turns some of his serious dialogue into unintentional comedy. However, he and de Niro are both engaged and active in their roles; even taking the goofy accent into consideration, this is no acting disaster such as last year’s Red Lights was for de Niro.

The problem is the material, written by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and directed by Markkilling-season Steven Johnson (DaredevilGhost Rider). The story is a bill of goods: it promises an exercise in these two soldiers stalking each other, but the first two rounds of the fight leave each man so wounded that no more real action can sensibly take place. Instead there are a series of tortures and monologues, each one followed by a tricky reversal so that the victim can be the torturer/monologuist in the next scene. This script has so failed to learn the “no monologuing” lesson from The Incredibles that it goes back to that same well again and again.

As for Johnson, his direction is serviceable for the drama but delivers almost none of the action. His camera stays still enough for the torture scenes to work, and moves around far too much to capture what little action the film does have. One early scene transitions so abruptly from torture to fistfight to white-water stunt that if anyone still used film, it would seem that a reel had been skipped. The climactic action scene in the film turns upon a use of light so ham-handed that even Tommy Wiseau would have searched for a different technique.

Killing Season wants to be a powerful war drama; now and then it gets close to that ideal with an effective line of dialogue. However, it cannot deny its true nature: this is a film which saddles John Travolta with awful facial hair and has the antagonist shout the line “We are the same, you and I!” at the protagonist. Any film which does that should have the common decency to be an entertaining action film, but that is not what is delivered.

-Mark Young

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