Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 21, 2016)
Back in 1996, a film from director Chuck Russell and actor John Travolta would’ve been a reasonably big deal, as both enjoyed borderline “A”-list status at that time. In 2016? Not so much, which might be why I Am Wrath went straight to video.
The absence of a theatrical release doesn’t automatically make a movie bad, though, so I figured Wrath deserved a look. Gang members kill Vivian Hill (Rebecca De Mornay), an action that understandably leaves her husband Stanley (Travolta) distraught.
To make matters worse, the perpetrators escape justice due to the sleazy shenanigans of corrupt police officers. Unsatisfied with the outcome, Stanley – a former Black Ops agent – takes the law into his own hands.
As I mentioned earlier, Russell enjoyed his most successful period in the 1990s, as flicks like 1994’s The Mask and 1996’s Eraser brought him to prominence. Demonstrated by Wrath, Russell seems to remain hung up on that era, as the film feels like something from a director who lacks signs of growth.
Actually, the Russell of Wrath seems to have regressed, as he worked better in earlier years. Mask was a pretty fun action-comedy, and 1987’s Nightmare on Elm Street 3 may have been the franchise’s best.
The 80s/90s Russell occasionally showed a spirit and irreverence absent from the lunk-headed Wrath. Maybe the “good Russell” died with Eraser, as that blockbuster suffered from a distinct lack of life and vivacity.
These same issues plague Wrath, a wholly pedestrian effort that desperately needs a little sense of self-awareness. Instead, the movie plays everything utterly straight, a choice that makes it feel out of touch with itself.
Not that I wanted or expected Wrath to offer some sort of comedy, but the movie needs a better reflection that the tone-deaf action heroics that worked in the 80s and 90s seem off-kilter today. No recognition of these changes appears in Wrath, so the end result feels oddly dated.
Travolta also seems miscast as the lead. He lacks the edge for a tough guy role like Stanley, so he leaves a hole in the center of the film. He feels totally unsuited for this kind of badass personality, and he robs the movie of any sort of power or drama.
Travolta also sports one of the worst wigs to hit movie screens in a long time. Sure, the actor has donned even uglier/less convincing faux hair in real life, but still – his ‘do looks so phony that it becomes an active distraction.
Add to that a story packed with trite plot points and predictable surprises and Wrath disappoints. The movie could’ve provided a strong revenge thriller but it ends up as limp and misguided.