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Everyone mocks Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, and Nicolas Cage for taking on roles and ridiculous scripts, all in the name of a paycheck, but why not Danny Trejo? Granted, talk like this could get someone seriously beat up, but the former convict turned character 'actor' is nothing if short of a cinematic ATM. This year alone he is set to star in or participate as part of 12 films or TV shows. He's made close to 50 such stops in the last 36 months. Wow. Now, no one expects someone with his limited range and heartbreaking back story to simply turn down a possible pay off, but, seriously, have you seen Zombie Hunter? How about Death Race 3: Inferno? Have you been privy to the painful The Bill Collector, or how about Spy Kids 4: All The Time in the World. Truth be told, Trejo was built for one role and one role only - Robert Rodriguez's ex-Federale turned U.S. spy turned one note mercenary Machete. After that, that guy is all face crags and graveled voice. The Contractor is an easily understood part of this type casting conceit. It doesn't require Trejo to do much except stalk and scowl, and he's a Mexican Viking at both of these things.
The 69-year-old plays Javier, the title entity, hired by a well to do lawyer Paul Chase (Brad Rowe) and his wife Liz (Christina Cox) to remodel their home for an upcoming charity event. What they don't know is that this calculated construction worker has a connection to the attorney and has been stalking them. Paul was part of case which saw Javier's son end up in jail, where he eventually died. Now, this contractor wants revenge, and while supposedly working on the family's home, he is actually plotting some major league payback. At first, he makes it look like Paul is having an affair. Once they discover that Javier isn't who they think he is, they fire him. Paul even hires some thugs to kill the determined dad. When that fails, Javier kidnaps their eldest daughter McKenzie (Taylor Spreitler). What takes place next is a cat and mouse stand-off with mother and father desperate to rescue their child and defeat the maniac once and for all.
So, what we have here is a pseudo-slasher update of Cape Fear minus anything that made either the 1962 or 1991 versions viable for audiences. Trejo is the pissed off criminal ala Robert De Niro and/or Robert Mitchum, Cox and Rowe are Polly Bergen/Jessica Lange and Gregory Peck/Nick Nolte respectively, and there's even a teen girl to terrorize. There's a botched legal case, a resilient lack of reason on the part of Javier/Max Cady/whatever and a finale which forces "good people" to take up arms against an enemy and destroy him. Instead of being intense, The Contractor is lax. Instead of being a bloody good time, this is PG-13 pabulum. A direct-to-DVD title doesn't skyrocket onto the format faster than this lame thriller. It's about as suspenseful as a stale cracker and equally as appetizing. Trejo is clearly the draw here, the filmmakers hoping that some of his less discriminating fans will give this otherwise ordinary effort a shot. Granted, if they will sit through Zombie Hunter they probably would sit through anything, including this. Still, for what it promises and defiantly doesn't deliver, The Contractor deserves condemnation.
The saddest thing here is that someone like Trejo should be able to save the day. He should be able to overcome first time feature filmmaker (albeit long time feature film editor) Sean Robert Olson's shoddy co-scripting and direction. He should be seen as a savior, bringing life to silly dialogue and dopey character motivation. Unfortunately, that idea seems too 1990s for our guides behind the scenes. They just need a name, and if not a name, a face, and Trejo definitely sports both. Had they infused the film with the kind of goofy gore that makes Jason Voorhees a fan favorite, you might have had some kind of burgeoning film franchise on your hands. Instead, Trejo's Javier is the bad guy, destined to die for reasons that make little or no sense outside of the storyline. You can't make a series out of a dead guy - unless you plan on bringing this builder back from the dead and have him wreck a little zombie havoc on the next victim pool. The Contractor could have been a silly slice of cheesy schlock. What we get instead is a boring, redundant reject.
Lionsgate lets this one loose with a decent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image. Since it was shot on digital, there are no major issues with the transfer. The film is professional made and presented, so at least we're not getting some half-assed homemade horror movie here. We also get a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which provides a bit of atmosphere for this otherwise inert film. There are times during the stand-offs when the back speakers spark to life. The rest of the time the dialogue is front and center and easily discernible (there is also a Stereo option, FYI). As for added content, we get a commentary track from Olson, who does a good job of breaking down the various production problems and pitfalls, as well as a Behind the Scene chat with the cast and crew and a still gallery.
When faced with something like The Contractor, all you can do is sit back and see what a semi-famous face and a limited acting range has to offer inside someone's idea of fill-in-the-blank genre entertainment. In this case, we have a thriller with no thrills and a fright flick where the only horrible thing is the end product. Earning an easy Skip It, don't let you love of Danny Trejo tempt you. This is a slow, sodden mess made only more pointless by the obvious efforts it borrows from. True, Machete has to eat. Too bad these are the meal plans he's being offered (or worse, that he's accepting).
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