Bad Hombres, by John Stalberg Jr, is an action crime thriller about warring drug cartels and redemption through violence.
Director and writer John Stalberg Jr’s oeuvre appears to be what we would have termed DTV B-films. In the era of streaming, they are destined to be PVOD titles. While there is always a market for blood-soaked action revenge films, Bad Hombres is an example of the lower spectrum of the genre. Derivative and lacking in any set-pieces the audience hasn’t seen done before in a more polished way, Bad Hombres ends up saying and doing nothing. And it is precisely the film’s ambivalence towards any political context which makes the audience question whether the movie is reactionary.
Felix (Diego Tinoco) is an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who has decided to try out the American Dream in a border town. He has a family in Ecuador he hopes he can bring to America. He finds out all too quickly that he is unwelcome not only by white people, but also by other workers desperate to pick up labouring jobs.
In a car park, he meets a taciturn man we later find out is named Alphonso (Hemky Madera), who refuses to even give him water. In a hardware store, the clerk refuses to allow Felix to fill up his bottle. The altercation leads to Donnie (Luke Hemsworth), a friendly ‘ocker’ Australian, defending him and making some jokes about whiteness and wokeness. He recruits Felix for some digging work, and Felix goes to Alphonso for the use of his truck and an opportunity for them to split the wages on what should be an easy enough job.
However, this is a border town run by cartels, and a simple job is, of course, more treacherous than it first appears. Donnie keeps spinning tales of how colonialism is a scourge even in Australia (he appears to be an ally to the plight of the Indigenous people), but it is all hokum to keep Felix and Alphonso digging. When his ‘Uncle’ Steve (Paul Johansson) turns up and it is made clear they are digging a grave for some Zetas, the mood changes drastically and Alphonso advises Felix to keep digging. That is until the realisation they too will end up in the unmarked grave.
What follows comes from almost every other imaginable source. Alphonso is not the itinerant worker he first appeared to be, but a man with a legendary nickname and a dead family. He was once involved with the cartels and has been long presumed dead. The car that Felix and Alphonso use to get away from Steve and Donnie is hiding more than dead bodies in the trunk.
Somewhere, in a scene ripped straight out of Sicario, Tyrese Gibson is acting as a middleman for one of the cartels. There is a battle brewing between the Zetas and the Gringos, and Felix, who has naïvely wandered into the middle of it, ends up with a bullet in him. Alphonso decides the young man is worth protecting, so he enlists the help of a scrap mechanic, Rob (Thomas Jane), who then sends the wounded man to a drunken doctor (Nick Cassavetes), who is a vet doing stitch up work on the side.
Every beat of Bad Hombres comes from somewhere else. Every twist is telegraphed in advance. The action scenes range from brutal to barely choreographed to violent just for the sake of violence. One scene in particular shows Steve murdering an innocent woman. It has been established that Steve is a bad man, so John Stalberg Jr’s decision to have the murder in the film exists as gratuitous. Women, if they exist at all, are either the reason the heroes or anti-heroes do what they do, or slaughter fodder.
We have already seen Liam Neeson take out everyone in his way in an actioner. We all know the John Wick “Don’t mess with a man who will obliterate everyone who has wronged him.” Even Thomas Jane was one of the actors to play The Punisher in the 2004 version.
Bad Hombres tries to inject some form of comedy into the proceedings via Luke Hemsworth’s hapless and venal Donnie. The “comedy” mostly appears to be him swearing as much as humanly possible and voicing opinions which could be read as belonging to John Stalberg Jr and co-writers Rex New and Nick Turner.
Characterisation is unimportant, as people are ‘bad guy,’ ‘worse guy,’ ‘nice guy,’ or ‘anti-hero on a redemption arc’. The dialogue is trite. At one stage Alphonso says, “I made the deal with the devil and I will be the one to pay.”
Bad Hombres might entice some viewers based on Luke Hemsworth, Tyrese Gibson, and Thomas Jane having parts in the film – but, eventually, it serves as a reminder that all of the actors are capable of doing better and their careers might be in a bit of a dip. Hemky Madera and Diego Tinoco do the best with what they are given, which is very little.
Bad Hombres sits in the sub-category of action films that exist to warn people that America has a problem with cartels, and is pointing a finger at the people who were exploited by them. Unlike Sicario, there is no ethical wriggle room. Bad Hombres is a film for people who have decided The Punisher is a symbol excusing institutional police violence. Discounting the unpleasant taste Bad Hombres leaves, the movie’s greatest sin is that it isn’t even entertaining for what it is, and the fate of anyone in the film isn’t something anyone will invest in.
Bad Hombres will be released in IS theaters and on demand on January 26 and on DVD on March 12, 2024.