Adkins and Johnson on a roll with The Debt Collector
The latest collaboration between leading man Scott Adkins and writer/director Jesse V. Johnson (following Savage Dog, Accident Man, Triple Threat, and Pit Fighter if you count the latter for Adkins' cameo), The Debt Collector is another winner and refreshingly different at the same time. It may have also become my new favourite film from both men's respective careers...
In addition to Adkins and Johnson, I've been a huge fan of co-star Louis Mandylor since The Quest, Martial Law, and his lesser known work like Champions, Counterforce, Suckers and many more, so it's a treat to see him join the mix here. He is a highly dependable actor with bags of charisma who has a background in action and martial arts.
Plus, we also have an interesting and varied ensemble cast (a welcome trademark of Johnson) including Michael Paré (Streets of Fire), Tony Todd (Candyman), Vladimir Kulich (The Equalizer) which adds both weight and gravitas.
When this story begins, French (Adkins), a classically trained martial artist running an LA gym, is struggling with debts. We even witness him wiping the gym floor (literally) with local gangsters who want to take the property. To make ends meet, he begins working for notorious local boss Tommy, servicing criminal outfits across the sun-drenched suburbs of Southern California. Working by a number scale, with #10 being a threat and a #1 being a full-on trip to the hospital, French and veteran 'debt collector' partner Sue (Louis Mandylor) are tasked with chasing down any kind of criminal or low-life who owes money to their boss. When they eventually track down an Irish barkeep with a mysterious secret, they may have finally encountered someone worth saving, while putting their own lives in jeopardy.
For those familiar with Johnson's excellent writing and directorial work, this once again takes a more character-driven, dramatic approach than the wall-to-wall action of, let's say, the Undisputed or Ninja films, which are great in their own right, but different... like a different drink for a different mood. Pictures like Savage Dog and The Debt Collector play more like action-orientated thrillers, or dramatic action if you will, with a greater emphasis on character and dialogue fueling the less frequent yet ballsy physical carnage, rather than action for spectacle. If anything, this makes the action heavier and we feel the weight of these repercussions. At the same time, The Debt Collector (like Accident Man before it) is laced with dark, sly humour which is delivered well.
The fight scenes here are very enjoyable, lively and physical, but still sit within the realms of reality. While slightly heightened, it's believable that these tough characters can lay out, and receive, hard beatings like this. And still, when the stakes are raised, with weapons or guns, the repercussions are shown to be far greater. Fight choreographer Luke LaFontaine (who worked on Savage Dog) does a fine job striking this balance.
It's probably fair to say that Adkins turned heads with Accident Man and delivered far more dialogue than many will have seen before, with wit and humour to boot. Now, Accident Man's co-writer Stu Smalls and Johnson have forged another character driven piece and multi-faceted character for Adkins, which continues this new trend. Mandylor gets some great scenes too as the groggy, permanently hungover Sue, a fun odd couple, and this duo makes a solid double team with real chemistry who bond well throughout their journey together.
Being a fan of the aforementioned character-action, laying out good storytelling and compelling characters, before unleashing a flurry of violence and throwing our (anti) heroes through the wringer, there is a lot to appreciate here. On this basis, they really knocked it out of the park and made it a new, firm favourite of mine in the process. The Debt Collector really deserves to be a success and I hope we get to see more like this.
The Debt Collector is out now in the US and released in the UK on 6th August