South African thriller Slam Bang promises to be a tense, brutal crime drama, but ends up being less than impressive. There's plenty of brutality, and a few moments of real tension, but everything is a few beats off, not quite amping things up to the level necessary. The film has a lot of problems, but also some real strengths. It has merit, but stops short of achieving its full potential.
George (Roland Gaspar) is a deferential, confrontation avoiding IT guy who is roped into performing a little corporate espionage for a shadowy gangster called the Chinaman. The Chinaman, who is never seen but only heard over the phone, threatens to kill George's girlfriend Karen (Jackie Rens) unless George steals some files from the home PC of another gangster Mr. G (Jan de Beer). The Chinaman suggests that George go about this by picking up and seducing Mr. G's wife, and extracting the files while she's asleep. Of course, things don't go as planned, beginning with when Mrs. G wakes up in the night and discovers George hacking her husband's computer, and attacks him, smashing up George's flash drive in the process.
Nothing improves for George throughout the next day. His car gets shot up by an easily annoyed cab driver, he is knocked unconscious and anally probed (no, really) after an ambush at what was supposed to be the drop off point for the computer files, Turk (who the Chinaman had sent to help him) gets shot in the gut after swallowing the damaged flash drive, and Mr. G hires cold blooded hit woman Isabella (Nicole Smart) to hunt him down and kill him. The situation does not improve from here.
Slam Bang does have some strong points. The performances are all good. Not great, but good. In the film's most emotionally fraught scenes, the actors can't seem to gin up quite the level of energy appropriate. When George brings the gut shot and dying Turk to his home, initially to pick up some tools to repair the flash drive once it makes its way through Turk's digestive tract, he is confronted by his girlfriend Karen. She is worried, because he hasn't been home, and quite concerned that there is a blood covered man on her parlor floor. Their performances are good, but a few beats off. Neither one is as frantic or intense as they should be, George in trying to convince Karen that she shouldn't call the police and Karen in insisting to know what is going on. This failure to achieve sufficient intensity plagues the entire film.
There are also a number of plot holes, or perhaps plot anomalies is a better term, since they're more unexplained or curious items than outright errors. Who are the men who ambush the drop point, and who shoot Turk? It's unclear whether they work for the Chinaman or are competitors. How did they know about the drop? How does Isabella get in the back of George's car when there are multiple snipers watching the house, a fact that was established short minutes before? How did she track down George to begin with? There are a number of puzzling questions like this throughout the film. They don't destroy the narrative, but do pull the viewer out of the moment from time to time.
The whole of Slam Bang is similar in that it works well, but not quite well enough to merit an unqualified recommendation. There's a lot of off kilter action, quite a bit of which involves George running around with a bag of human entrails, but the gunfire sounds like popguns. The film is populated with stone cold killers, but they all seem to enjoy having long, pointless conversations when they should be killing people. There is a lot of interesting material on offer, but it is often disregarded in favor of material that is less than compelling. George himself is a less than empathetic protagonist, being sort of a wimp to begin with and sleeping with another woman without a second thought to save his girlfriend. This all adds up to a film which is good, but disappointing. This one is a rental.
Essay by Film Critic Bill Gibron