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Scott Adkins might just be the hardest working man in action cinema. The British martial artist and actor has appeared in or is slated to appear in seven films this year alone. Often playing a monosyllabic villain or a square-jawed but troubled hero Adkins invests his characters with the tenacity and athleticism not seen much in the West outside of a Jason Statham movie. Scott Adkins has experience in 9 martial arts and cut his teeth in the straight-to-DVD market with the likes of veteran action stars Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme. He has also worked with legendary Hong Kong directors and actors Sammo Hung, Wu Jing and Jackie Chan. He brings all of this experience to bear in his latest Netflix movie The Debt Collector.
French (Scott Adkins) is a down on his luck MMA instructor whose dojo is facing foreclosure. Struggling with mounting debts he approaches debt collector Tommy (Vladimir Kulich) for a job. Paired with alcoholic mess Sue (Louis Mandylor) French is tested and eventually sent on a revenge mission by jealous mobster Barbosa (Tony Todd). What Barbosa tasks French and Sue with tests both men’s fighting skills as well as their own personal codes of honour.
The plot of The Debt Collector is pretty bare bones but that’s the price of admission to see experts in their respective fighting styles beat the living shit out of each other. With that said the film has some odd bits of visual flair that seem unusual at first and only really make sense towards the end. Interspersed with the bright sunny suburbs and skyscrapers of Los Angeles is black and white footage of cows in fields and – as the film goes on – in slaughterhouses. It’s strange and wouldn’t be out of place in a Slovakian art-house film but kudos to director Jesse V. Johnson for adding a sense of discreet unease to what would normally be a run-of-the-mill action film.
The Debt Collector’s story chugs along at an admirable pace with plenty of fight scenes in between the moments where French and Sue growl and curse at each other. It’s in the fight scenes more than the growling scenes that the skills of the actors really shine. Adkins’ mix of the likes of Judo, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Capoeira (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and Mandylor’s own mastery of Muay Thai and regular boxing make for varied, fast-paced and brutal fight scenes. Adkins physical beat-downs and scenery destroying fight scenes are just that bit harder than the barbed quips the script is laden with. The varied use of ethnic epithets such as ‘Paddy’, ‘Dago’, ‘Limey’ and ‘Frog’ sells the hard-bitten atmosphere the film is trying to sell. The characters in The Debt Collector don’t care about the impact their words will have, only what impact their fists will.
The Debt Collector plays it’s trump cards late in the film. Barbosa tasks French and Sue to find an Irish immigrant named Conor Mulligan (Jack Lowe) who apparently messed around with Barbosa’s fiancé Amanda (Rachel Brann). Conor has an adorable daughter, Laine (Josie M. Parker), and it’s this kind of storyline that would probably have made the plot of The Debt Collector more interesting and relatable. It’s hard to root for loan shark enforcers no matter how well-meaning or down on their luck they are. A story like Conor and Laine’s would have put The Debt Collector in line with recent greats such as You Were Never Really Here and Logan.
The Debt Collector is another great action film with a likeable heroic turn from Scott Adkins. His heroes are always more likeable than his villains, mainly because they have more to say and it’s usually funnier. The film’s bombastic and bone-breaking fight scenes hit hard but it’s a shame that the story doesn’t hit harder than it could. Still considering his quick output it’s only a matter of time before Scott Adkins pulls off his own Logan.