Sometimes, if you don’t want to contend with large, shoulder-nudging, holiday crowds to see the latest theatrical blockbuster, you can resort to either Netflix and Redbox for an entertaining, straight-to-video feature or browse the video racks at your local Walmart for something equivalent. Action movie junkies who crave exciting, old-fashioned, nail-biters may want to consider the suspenseful, fast-paced, abduction/political assassination melodrama “Decommissioned” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) as a serviceable alternative. “SWAT: Unit 887” helmer Timothy Woodward, Jr., has cast muscular Johnny Messner as a sympathetic but formidable hero who doesn’t stand around and let the grass grow between his toes. Not only does Woodward, Jr. , stage the bullet-blasting action with an adrenaline-like urgency, but he also doesn’t let the plot meander in this low-budget, R-rated, 80-minute actioneer. Scenarist Sean Ryan, who wrote Woodward, Jr.’s previous thriller “Weaponized” that also toplined Messner, has penned this far livelier screenplay here where the hero turns the tables on the villains before they can flip them on him. Typically, in the usual standard-issue action opus, the protagonist follows the dictates of the villains as they compel him to navigate an obstacle course of complications where things unfold with a predictable familiarity. What “Decommissioned” lacks in terms of originality, the filmmakers compensate with high velocity heroics. Mind you, the stunts and the explosions don’t generate much in the way of collateral damage, but the shenanigans are sufficient to keep you focused. Aside from Messner, who has made his share of straight-to-video sagas, “Decommissioned” has seasoned screen veteran James Remar of “The Warriors” as the sinister villain and the ever-dependable Vinnie Jones as a good guy for a change. The villains assemble for what is essentially a political conspiracy thriller reminiscent of Alan J. Pakula’s “The Parallax View” (1974) with Warren Beatty. Furthermore, “Decommissioned” reminded me of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic “Commando” (1985) because Arnold didn’t do what the villains told him to do. He retaliated fearlessly against his captors and did what he wanted so as to rescue his young daughter from the clutches of his enemies.
“Decommissioned” opens with an Abraham Lincoln quote: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Moments afterward, another preface appears, but this one is fictional: “Since 9-11, the CIA commissioned a top-secret unit code named BT85 with the sole purpose of monitoring the American people on American soil.” The exposition continues: “The President of the United States has declared that the CIA’s BT85 Task Force violates the 9th Amendment of the Constitution.” During a televised press conference, President Ford (Richard Burgi of “The Green Inferno”) informs the nation that he has introduced a bill to nullify the BT85 Task Force that has made a mockery of individual privacy. Nevertheless, Ford’s adversaries are determined to thwart his efforts. After the filmmakers present this parcel of information, they shift the scene to our hero, John Niles (Johnny Messner of “Operation Delta Force 4: Deep Fault”), who is relaxing at home with his wife and son. Niles is portrayed as a devoted father as well as a passionate husband who doesn’t shun his marital obligations, much to the delight of his wife, Rebecca (Estella Warren of the 2001 “Planet of the Apes” remake), now that he has retired from a Special Forces Anti-Terrorist Unit. Bad guy David Marino (James Remar) dispatches his hard-knuckled hooligans to abduct our hero. They subject him to the kind of physical torture that no mere mortal could survive and then they reveal that they have kidnapped Rebecca and his son. Predictably, the beaten-up and blood-spattered Niles assures Marino and company that he will go ballistic on all of them if they endanger his family. Marino leaves Niles in the hands of five sadistic henchmen while he attends to other matters of greater importance. The last thing that he imagines is that Niles will fulfill his promise of retribution. Not only does Niles snap the restraints holding him against his will in a chair, but he also devastates his captors with lethal force and leaves nobody to testify.
Meanwhile, Niles’ superior Michael Price (Vinnie Jones of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) wants our hero to infiltrate a seditious cell within the government that has targeted the Chief Executive for termination. He supplies our hero with a computer flash drive that basically constitutes a ‘get out of jail free card’ because it contains ultra-sensitive government data about 9/11. Mind you, Vinnie Jones is confined largely to a peripheral supporting role, but he makes a strong impression as he pops up at random throughout the beginning, middle, and the end. Amazingly enough, Niles does accommodate his captors to keep them from harming his wife and son. Surprisingly, he does shoot the president and then embarks on a search for his family. Woodward Jr., maintains marginal suspense because we have no idea how seriously Niles has wounded the President. Now, Niles finds himself the object of a manhunt by bad-tempered LAPD Detective Tom Weston (Michael Paré of “Streets of Fire”) who is drawn into the line of fire, too. Ultimately, these two join forces to take down the heavies.
Indeed, the bad guys are notoriously terrible marksmen, even at close range, but they wield some impressive firepower. Some come equipped with sophisticated assault rifles and others tote ordinance far more deadly. Nevertheless, the heroes lead charmed lives and win the day. Johnny Messner delivers a charismatic performance, and Michael Paré is effective as an irate LAPD detective. Although it is a relatively disposable action thriller, “Decommissioned” qualifies as an above-average guilty pleasure with a couple of surprises, too.