Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2023)
No one would expect a light, airy film with a title like The Retaliators. Indeed, the 2021 movie offers a violent tale of revenge.
Set in New Jersey at Christmas, John Bishop (Michael Lombardi) works as a pastor and acts as the sole parent of daughters Sarah (Katie Kelly) and Rebecca (Abbey Hafer). He finds his life shattered when drug dealer Ram (Joseph Gatt) murders Sarah.
This traumatic action sends Bishop on both a spiral of faith and a quest to get vengeance for Sarah’s death. Along with Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca), Bishop struggles to cope with events and address the realities of the situation.
Based on that synopsis, I went into Retaliators with a basic structure in mind. We’d meet the Bishop clan, see Sarah’s untimely demise, and then follow John on his downward spiral.
Instead, the movie opens with a violent prologue that enjoys more in common with The Hills Have Eyes than the standard revenge thriller. In theory, this curveball sounds intriguing.
In reality… not so much, mainly because Retaliators seems so ham-fisted and hackneyed. After that out-of-left-field opening, we indeed head toward the expected vengeance narrative, one that the movie sets up in the clumsiest of fashions.
This occurs mainly because Retaliators immediately sets up Bishop as a borderline wimp. When a pushy jerk (Brian O’Halloran) takes the Christmas tree Bishop tries to buy, our lead backs down immediately.
Which would seem sane, as some dude nuts enough to provoke a fight over a tree would seem like someone to avoid. However, Retaliators paints Bishop as a bit of a coward, as Sarah needles him relentlessly about his supposed lack of cojones.
We call this “foreshadowing”, as it implies Bishop will eventually embrace “might equals right”. This seems trite and predictable, and the cinematic techniques on display follow suit.
Retaliators embraces every cliché in the book. We get abundant “jump scares” as well as an always-in-motion camera, foreboding music and anything else you can think of that an unconfident filmmaker would embrace.
As a result, Retaliators consistently seems desperate and silly. The movie tries so desperately to jolt the viewer that the opposite occurs and only eye rolls result.
Retaliators doesn’t want to seem campy but it does. The movie goes so over the top in its melodrama that it musters more laughs than scares.
It doesn’t help that the story flits all over the place. Retaliators veers from Bishop’s pain and mission to issues with the drug dealers to the lonely investigation of Detective Sawyer.
None of this flows coherently, and it all leads to an absolutely absurd third act that links to the prologue I mentioned. This twist seems so ludicrous that it becomes much more laughable than compelling.
Really, Retaliators probably should’ve just stayed with the basic revenge thriller I anticipated. While that might seem less creative than this crazed melange of genres, at least it could become coherent.
In theory, as the product on this Blu-ray leaves me with little confident the filmmakers could’ve made a worthwhile movie no matter how basic. Retaliators becomes a goofy mishmash that flops.