Bad Movies Done Right – The Stranger

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Stranger in a Dumb Land!

I’ve never been exceptionally kind to wrestlers-turned-actors.

With the exception of Dwayne Johnson (and maybe Andre the Giant), I have yet to see a professional wrestler turn in a believable performance in a film — an odd feat since a large chunk of professional wrestling involves acting.

Whether it’s because a movie script requires wrestlers to emote more than their usual ring escapades call for or the fact that wrestlers tend to get attached to sub-par projects to begin with, I steel myself before watching any movie that features a wrestler as the main star.

So much for not judging a book by its spandex-clad, heavily muscled cover.

I would love to say that The Stranger, a recent action movie staring Steve Austin, broke the mold and finally showed me the error of my judgmental ways. I would also like to say I go home to a supermodel every night. Saying it won’t make it true, though.

The Stranger is a somewhat jumbled, often boring thriller where Austin plays a man with a hidden past. Unfortunately, the movie’s mystery and eventual resolution is just as unmemorable as the action-filled ride leading up to it.

As the film begins, Austin is a bearded unkempt homeless man on the run from the Feds. Wanted by the FBI in connection with a briefcase full of missing money, a trail of dead bodies and a possible connection to dirty agents, Austin’s the Stranger (as he’s listed in the credits) is a ramblin’ man with a serious case of forgetfulness.

Like Guy Pearce in Memento or Dana Carvey in Clean Slate, the Stranger is a stranger to his own self — constantly and unwittingly creating new identities for himself as a coping device for a mysterious tragedy that the film seems to hint at every ten minutes with a montage of annoying flashbacks strung throughout the film like popcorn garter on a hillbilly Christmas tree.

On the trail of the Stranger is Mason Reese, an FBI agent played by Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers), and Grace Bishop, a former doctor to the Stranger played by Erica Cerra.

Bishop specializes in memory recovery and she hopes that, by exposing the Stranger to a variety of stimulus, she can help him jog his memory and remember his past.

Unfortunately, Bishop and Reese are not the only ones looking for the Stranger. It seems before Austin’s amnesiac disappeared, he made some serious enemies including the Russians, the Mexicans and a couple of corrupt FBI agents.

The Stranger takes its somewhat tired plot setup and proceeds to piledrive it into the ground by spinning its proverbial wheels for an hour and a half. The Stranger is not a complex movie. All but the distracted or stubbornly ignorant will figure out exactly where the movie is going by the first half-hour mark. From there, watching The Stranger becomes a game of patience as audiences are forced to watch Steve Austin fumble his way through the movie as if he was playing pin the tail on the early-‘90s USA Network made-for-TV movie.

It would be one thing for Austin to appear in the movie in a state of perpetual confusion — looking for all intents and purposes as if he was way over his head. This would be acceptable because this is exactly the kind of performance his character calls for.

Instead, though, Austin seems to be pushed through the plot of The Stranger — with his co-stars’ heavy-handed exposition acting like pseudopods to Austin’s one-cell amoeba.

Austin looks like he wasn’t even aware that a movie was being made around him. Sure, he performs his stunt work with technical proficiency and if The Stranger was all about action he would have deserved the same type of reward and praise that trained seals and dogs receive. Unfortunately, The Stranger called for some real emotional range from the “actor.”

Austin’s character was tortured by his past and haunted by unexplained memories. Throughout The Stranger, though, Austin’s face was a granite rock devoid of any emotion. Austin was incapable of expressing any sign of personality — let being able to convince us that he was in fact a genuine human being and not a life-size action figure.

Director Robert Lieberman wasn’t much help either. The Stranger looks like the hideous inbred child of a Tony Scott film and an episode of The Shield. The camera constantly moves with little thought to why it should be. It’s painfully obvious that the fancy camera tricks and flashy editing were used to distract audiences from a shallow story and phoned in acting. Adam Beach and Erica Cerra try their best to breathe a little life into the script but they are fighting an unwinnable war against an overwhelming tidal wave of mediocrity.

Quinn Scott’s script feels like a 45-minute episode of any generic ‘90s syndicated action television show of your choice — but spread out to an almost unbearable 90 minutes.

The Stranger is best enjoyed while in some form of inebriation. I would recommend taking a shot every time the film forsakes logic or waltzes through the walls of “WTF” but I’d feel responsible when you got alcohol poisoning before the film’s halfway mark.

Instead, I’ll just recommend avoiding the film all together. There’s enough stuff to watch on TV without subjecting yourself to The Stranger.

Robert Saucedo got tired of calling Steve Austin’s character the Stranger real fast. He felt like was talking about a Jack Kirby comic book character. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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