Jesse V. Johnson’s action dramedy boasts both dazzling fights sequences and compelling performances.
Veteran British stunt performer, coordinator, and director Jesse V. Johnson is on a hot streak, crafting interesting actioners with great fights – and at least one striking performance per movie – year after year. Judging by his latest, Debt Collectors, Johnson won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
As a standalone film, Debt Collectors is a pleasure – a buddy dramedy with two compelling actors playing two compelling characters, and creative, well-choreographed action scenes. As a sequel, it’s full-on fantastic, ably expanding – and deftly improving – 2018’s The Debt Collector.
At first glance, The Debt Collector is an odd choice for a movie to receive a sequel. French (played by frequent Johnson collaborator Scott Adkins) is a martial arts instructor who takes up debt collection to save his foundering dojo. Sue (Louis Mandylor) is a former ninja B-movie star-turned-leg-breaker. A crisis of conscience leads them to take on a powerful crime lord. It goes well for the people they’re trying to help and poorly for them. As the movie ends, French is mortally wounded, and Sue is dead. Not the easiest place to pick up a new narrative.
But pick it up Debt Collectors does. With timely help, French and Sue survive. Now Sue’s been given 48 hours to collect on three loans, and he needs French’s help.
Debt Collectors uses French and Sue’s bond as its dramatic core, the fate of their friendship as important to the story as the sinister plot behind their being sent after these particular collections. Johnson and co-writer Stu Small, who also co-wrote the first film, build on the characters of two down-and-out souls skittering around the dark side of Los Angeles.
As a sequel, it’s full-on fantastic, ably expanding – and deftly improving – 2018’s The Debt Collector.
As Debt Collectors begins, the fallout from the first film’s climax has left French and Sue changed men. French, no longer naïve, has become a cynic with a vicious streak who just wants to get the job done. Sue, once an amiably apathetic clock-puncher, is now trying to figure out who he is and attempting to do something good by the standards of the dark world in which he and French dwell. Their transformations as people have transformed their relationship, whether philosophizing on a quiet night or beating the stuffing out of one another. It’s good storytelling, performed darn well by Adkins and Mandylor.
Debt Collectors’ many fight scenes are collectively the sequel’s biggest improvement. In the first film, the action sequences suffered from monotony – French and Sue mostly fought bands of large, powerful mooks – and its climactic gunfight was, unfortunately, confusingly chaotic rather than excitingly chaotic.
By contrast, each and every one of Debt Collectors’ action scenes plays out in its own way and on its own terms. Boxing, foot chases, parkour, and guns; dopey drunks and musclebound enforcers; painful, funny, raw. And when French and Sue come to blow, Adkins and Mandylor do some of their best acting in the whole film.
Debt Collectors is a very good film and a superb sequel, tying terrific lead performances into a thrilling smorgasbord of action. A toast, to Jesse V. Johnson and his creative collaborators. A toast, to Debt Collectors.
Debt Collectors is now available on VOD.