As Good As Dead (2022): Breakdown by Rutledal
An ex-cop living in hiding takes a young boy under his wing, but when his past comes back to haunt him he’s forced to save the boy and fight for his life.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Michael Jai White as Bryant Powell/Bo Davis
Bryant Powell is an ex-cop, ex-DEA agent who is living in hiding just south of the Mexican border under the alias Bo Davis after bringing down a ring of corrupt cops. He lives in a fortified, bulletproof, weaponized trailer, and he went undercover as a cage fighter in prison to bring down a human trafficking ring. Which he will assure you bears no resemblance to any Jean Claude van Damme movies. At least he didn’t name drop Undisputed 2.
Michael Jai White wrote this film himself so there it’s not short on having characters describe how badass Powell is. He takes a teenage boy under his wing and teaches him some fighting techniques and MJW’s style is so powerful that the kid immediately defeats a guy twice his size in an underground fight. Even by proxy he’s a badass. When a video of the fight goes up online the villains immediately identify the style used in the fight as Powell’s style because “only one guy fights like that”. His every move is a signature. Jai White also dual wields machetes at one point which is just one of the most badass images possible to create. If you’re walking down the street and Michael Jai White comes towards you with two machetes, you’re running in the other direction.
Guillermo Iván as Hector, Gabriela Quezada as Marisol and Luca Oriel as Oscar
Hector is Oscar’s older brother and a small-time gangster just out of jail. He starts out very untrusting of Bryant because he suspects him of being a cop and he hates cops. But after bonding over a discussion about Jean Claude van Damme and other action movies, and Bryant saving his life, he learns to trust him as they have to save Oscar. He’s more boasting than badass, but he does get his moment at the end of the film. We’ll get back to it.
Marisol is the receptionist, and daughter of the owner, of a local that Oscar tries to sign up for. She ends up becoming a bit of a nothing character in a film that is a bit overcrowded. Oscar catches her attention after winning the fight and then she just kind of tags along and gets kidnapped. She does get to kneecap a dude at the end though, so there’s that.
Oscar is the teenager taken in and trained by Bryant. He’s a scrawny looking kid, but Michael Jai White teaches him some moves for self defense and it immediately turns him into prime George St. Pierre. If Daniel LaRusso had been trained by Bryant Powell he would have choked Johnny Lawrence out cold in 20 seconds, which I think is an even less legal move than that crane kick. Oscar enters an underground fight where they pay you if you just stay on your feet for 3 minutes against this guy and Oscar knocks him out cold instead. He also gets two fights against Bryant’s former student turned enemy and I’d say he wins both bouts. 3-0, not a bad start to your fighting record for a kid that looks like he’d struggle to punch his way out of a paper bag.
I’m not sure if this Luca Oriel kid is a martial artist off screen too, but he certainly is convincing in his mimicking of Jai White’s style here. Maybe he turns up in another DTV movie in a bargain bin near you soon enough.
THE BAD GUYS:
Tom Berenger as Sonny Kilbane
Kilbane is the corrupt police chief who ran the trafficking ring and set up Bryant. He’s now in prison and he just stays in prison. For someone who is billed as the main baddie Beregner just has an easy payday where he spends half his screen time in a sauna showing off his old man tits. It’s difficult for him to make a mark on the film when he spends no time with the other characters and we’re just told what he did, never shown.
Louis Mandylor as Piro
Mandylor plays Kilbane’s wimp ass lawyer, who does little other than run his mouth. He’s not threatening in any way whatsoever, but as Kilbane is locked up in jail he needs someone to run his errands and it’s this guy. It’s a bit of a bummer that Louis Mandylor is given such a nothing role after seeing how much fun he was in The Debt Collector films.
Michael Copon as Eric Green
The first of the baddies to get anything to do and he’s introduced over halfway through. Green used to be a member of Bryant’s squad and is his former student, but he’s also one of the cops who betrayed him and sent him into hiding. Green kidnaps Oscar and Marisol, but only does so by tricking them into trusting him. He fights Oscar twice and loses twice, and then gets kneecapped by Marisol. His badass credentials are certainly revoked by getting absolutely rinsed by some minors.
Mario Zaragoza as Don Cesar Valdez
Yeah… this movie has a villain problem, it has too many of them. Because the main villain is locked away and not participating in the film they have to supplement with all these other bad guys on the outside. Don Cesar is the final villain introduced, after the hour mark, and he’s Kilbane’s “business” partner who runs the trafficking ring operations south of the border. He mostly feels like a character that is introduced to give the climax a location, but he’s also probably the best villain the film has. A real nasty dude who takes joy in telling Oscar and Marisol how he’ll sell them off to pedos, no hesitation for backstabbing, and he’s the villain who actually turns up for the final showdown. They should have just made him the bad guy all along instead of Bergner chilling in prison.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
There isn’t much to write about here, Bryant has his wife who he reunites with, Oscar has Marisol, and whatever Hector got up to in prison is mentioned. Michael Jai White only takes his shirt off for a training montage the very beginning, and although he looks great for 54 I also think he’s reached the age where you can’t hide the signs of age by just being hella shredded anymore. While the shirts stay one White does make sure they are tight enough to showcase his quite frankly ridiculously large pecs. Bolo Yeung wept.
There is also Tom Berenger and his buddies chilling in the prison sauna… those are some old sweaty dudes.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
The movie is a bit shy when it comes to female representation. There is Oscar’s grandma who is briefly seen giving him some money. There is Marisol who as previously mentioned doesn’t get a lot to do, gets kidnapped, but does save Oscar by kneecapping Eric Green. Don Valdez also promises her that the sex traffickers will pay extra if she’s a virgin. And Kilbane has a prostitute that he’s about to fuck in prison, but Louis Mandylor ends up cock blocking him with a meeting.
Lastly there is Bryant’s wife who we only get to see in a flashback where she is getting tortured by the corrupt cops before Bryant steps in and kills the shit out of them. They cook up a domestic abuse story to explain her bruises and his disappearance. So Michael Jai White cast his own wife, gave her zero lines and battered her up. Who said romance was dead?
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 45-ish ]
Michael Jai White grabs the majority of fatalities, dispatching of bad guys with guns, a crossbow and a brief machete massacre. Strangely enough MJW kills none of the main bad guys, only random henchmen. Hector and Don Alvarez both get on the score sheet too with one each, and one half a twin assassin duo lights himself on fire to get out of fighting Bryant. The rest of the 15 to 20 remaining kills are Don Alvarez’ men and a group of Mexican bikers having a shootout during the climax with some casualties on both sides.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING AND/OR DEATH:
One of my favorite things that can happen in an action film is when a bad guy is holding a hostage in front of them and the hero has a chance to take the shot and does so. Step up Michael Jai White. Some Mexican gangster thinks he’s going to intimidate Bryant by holding Hector hostage and starts running his mouth. Bryant lets his gun carry out his half of the conversation.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
This starts as a 6 vs 1 with six dudes armed with machetes versus an unarmed Michael Jai White, and ends with White having two machetes and no opponents. There isn’t much more to say about, it’s just a cool scene of MJW fucking some dudes up. The gunplay in the film is sadly marred a bit by some shoddy CGI and the climax is mostly shootouts without any fighting. So you better believe the highlight is the knife fight.
It is slim pickings here. I’d kind of want to give to Bryant and Hector’s discussion about which Jean Claude van Damme movie most closely resembles Bryant’s back story and Hector confusing Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight for JCVD joint. While it is fun to see Jai White riffing about the martial arts films he loves, even making sure to name drop the lesser known Locked Down (2010) as a recommendation, it isn’t exactly badass.
I’d probably have to go with Bryant confronting the second twin of a duo of twin assassins. The second twin doesn’t know that Bryant killed the other one and is waiting for his brother to shoot Bryant. Instead he breaks the news to him.
“You’re one of a kind now.”
Let’s be honest Michael Jai White has not had the greatest track record of films. Ever since landing Spawn almost out of nowhere and the movie bombing at the box office MJW seems cursed to never catch a break or not know how to hold on to one. When he did both Blood and Bone, and Black Dynamite in 2009 it felt like he was finally going to have his proper break. Instead he’s doing TV movies and The Ayslum RoboCop remake mockbuster while everyone else is invited to The Expendables movie. By my count Michael Jai White has done 43 movies since Blood and Bone, and you could count the good ones on one hand. Besides a few decent supporting turns (Skin Trade, Triple Threat, Accident Man) his only standout films after Blood and Bone are Falcon Rising (if you’re into the whole Ernie Barbarash thing, I’m not) and the two Never Back Down sequels that Jai White directed himself.
So it does seem that his best work comes when he is holding the reins himself, and such is the case here too with Jai White both writing the script and producing the film himself. Let’s hope that this marks an upswing in quality for Michael Jai White films, I already know he’s followed this up with a Tubi original so… but there is also his third directorial effort, the long awaited Black Dynamite follow up, Outlaw Johnny Black dropping later this year.
Similarly this is a step up for director R. Ellis Frazier who previously did Larceny with Dolph Lundgren, Misfire with Gary Daniels and a couple of Luke Goss films. So I can say with confidence that this is his best movie to date. Because maybe I have been burying the lead here, but this is the best Michael Jai White film in at least 7 years.
It suffers somewhat from all the best action taking place before the hour mark. The climax should be the highlight, but it becomes a damp squib of a generic shootout instead. It is further marred by some rather lackluster CGI blood. I understand that it saves time and money, and you don’t want to pull an Alec Baldwin, but it really does strip shootouts of any texture these days. Especially when it looks as cheap as here.
The film ends up being a victim of its own balancing act. We get a really good arc with our heroes, the relationship between the brothers and Hector slowly learning to trust Bryant and the fact that someone else has his younger brother’s interest in mind. That’s the good stuff. On the other hand we have this really washy mosaic of villains where none of them really takes centre stage and none of them get the satisfactory demise you hope for. Don Alvarez gets a shotgun blast to the back in a moment paying tribute to Scarface, but he’s only in the movie for about 15 minutes and he’s the only bad guy there is no personal beef with. I would have liked to see Bryant absolutely destroy Eric Green in a fight at the end or something like that. We’re only teased that Bryant will take revenge on Kilbane in the final moments. But seeing MJW whoop a senior citizens wouldn’t be the most satisfying thing either.
It’s 55 minutes of a really good DTV movie, 8/10 stuff, and then it is sadly capped off by 30 minutes of some more like 5/10 average as hell DTV stuff. Which sounds like a bummer, but considering most Michael Jai White DTV movies peak at 5/10 point this is high praise.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
The only exception to ACAB is MJW.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[x] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
 Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
 Crotch Attack
[x] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[x] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket, Or A Towel
 Giant Explosions
 Heavy Artillery
 Improvised Weapon(s)
[x] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
 Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
 Manly Embrace(s)
[x] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting (Art Camacho)
[x] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
 Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
 Senseless Destruction Of Property
[x] Shoot-Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[x] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
 Stupid Authoritative Figures
 Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[x] Torture Sequence(s)
 Unnecessary Sequel
 Vehicle Chase(s)
 Vigilante Justice