Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 8, 2020)
A thriller that takes on a topical domain, 2020’s Inherit the Viper involves the opioid epidemic as it damages rural America. Set in Appalachia, we see the ways the drugs impact the community.
Siblings Kip (Josh Hartnett) and Josie Conley (Margarita Levieva) sell these narcotics as an attempt to eke out a living in their economically depressed environment. Their family used this method for years, so they carry on the “tradition”.
Matters take a turn when a deal goes fatally awry. As a result, Kip decides to escape the trade, but he finds that easier said than done.
Today’s Sign That I’m Old: I remember when Hartnett seemed primed to become a major “A-list” actor. Circa the early 2000s, he got major roles in big flicks like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, films that appeared likely to catapult him to stardom.
But this never occurred. Hartnett continued to work, but he appeared to veer away from the kind of blockbusters needed to elevate his status.
Whether this occurred due to Hartnett’s personal choices or Hollywood decided for him seems up for grabs. Whatever the case, he faded into semi-“where are they now?” territory.
If Hartnett indeed backed away from blockbusters because he preferred to go with movies that meant something to him, then I applaud him. It takes nerve to step away from the fame and fortune that could’ve accompanied those kinds of roles.
Don’t look to Viper as an indication that Hartnett selects quality projects, though – at least not circa 2020. A surprisingly thin and bland effort, Viper fails to do much with its subject matter.
Kip essentially takes on the Michael Corleone part as the character who wants to distance himself from his family’s illegal actions. Josie comes across more as Sonny, the one actively interested in the business.
Viper comes with plenty of room for introspection, as it could explore a mix of domains. It could look at the pressures of family choices and those repercussions, or it could view the damage – both physical and emotional – that comes with the drug trade.
However, Viper simply feels uncommitted to any of these topics in a dynamic manner. At 84 minutes, it lacks the space necessary to develop the characters and/or themes in a satisfying way, so it feels half-baked too much of the time.
This means we never get a sense of the roles and their motivations beyond the superficial. Viper treats all the participants as part of a bland package that never threatens to involve the viewer.
Hartnett seems decent, but of the cast, only Levieva manages to elevate her role. As the more hard-bitten sibling, she gives Josie the right patina of cold realism, but she also manages a tinge of humanity and regret as well.
With more development in that realm, Viper could’ve become an impactful drama. As it stands, the movie seems thin and superficial.