In the last five minutes of CORBIN NASH, a blind street preacher (Malcolm McDowell) who has acted as something of a Greek Chorus throughout the film literally says, “So it begins.” Forget that the line is meant to be a serious proclamation (despite it being overused to the point of parody for years now), focus on the fact that this talk of beginnings comes at the end of the movie. The problem is—given the context of the way the story plays out—it is accurate for him to say it at that point. In other words, strap in for eighty minutes of wheel spinning before the film gets to the point it should have reached fifteen minutes into its run time.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a man learns that his deceased parents were not who he thought they were. A slightly sinister stranger tells him that he has great untapped strength and that his destiny is to fight an evil that just so happened to kill his parents.
Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with using this tried-and-true setup as long as the filmmakers try to do something original with it. Unfortunately, the people in front of and behind the camera on CORBIN NASH seem to be content to hit the expected beats of their horror/action/superhero mash up.
The titular hero (co-writer Dean Jagger) is a New York City police officer. He is the type of movie cop who sulks in bars about the dismissal of charges against a serial rapist he arrested, questioning if he should have just shot the suspect when he had the chance. While drinking in defeat with Jack (Bruce Davison), the man who apparently raised him after his parents’ death (their relationship is never made entirely clear), he is approached by a stranger (Rutger Hauer) who tells him his father (in addition to being a World Series-winning baseball player) and mother were warriors against evil. They were killed in Los Angeles by some sort of super vampire named Drake. Now, it is time for Corbin to embrace his destiny and avenge the death of his parents. You can guess what happens from there.
I don’t necessarily mind origin stories, but CORBIN NASH feels less like a movie and more like an extended pilot for a ’90s syndicated action series with HBO or Showtime levels of violence and nudity. Frustratingly, the film never tries to rise above the generic style of storytelling embedded into superhero movie and TV origin stories before BLADE (a character to which CORBIN NASH clearly owes a debt) came along. At the same time, the film is technically polished enough with decent cinematography, solid editing, and (mostly) credible performances that it never becomes entertainingly bad. It settles firmly in the middle of the pack, refusing to show a flicker of ambition as it trots out the usual scenes set in strip clubs, shots of the hero looking cool on a motorcycle, and day players like Davison and Hauer showing up to cash their checks that is so often found in low-budget tough guy action/horror films.
I guess there actually is a flicker of ambition in the film, but it comes in the most misguided form. Corey Feldman plays one of the main vampire villains. That fact alone would be enough to grab the interest of some people while giving pause to others. But he plays the character as a vindictive transsexual person, complete with horrifying makeup and an over-the-top sneering performance that seems intended to call to mind Joan Crawford at her lowest point. I spent a couple of minutes trying to decide if the look and performance was offensive to actual drag performers or LGBTQ folks, but then realized that was a moot point since it is simply too bizarre and unnecessary to be taken seriously enough to find offense. It’s just such a strange choice that adds nothing to the film other than to make Feldman look as grotesque as possible.
Part of me wishes that the script by Jagger, his director brother Ben, and Christopher P. Taylor had just been done as a pilot for a new TV show, even if it never made it to series. That at least would have justified the awkward structure of cutting back and forth between the past as Nash slowly pieces together the connection a series of missing persons reports in Los Angeles has with his search for Drake and the present day as he lays in a bed seemingly dying from a vampire attack. It is hard to maintain interest when the hero is not only as dour as Corbin is, but also when he is constantly three steps behind the audience.
All complaints registered, the film actually remains watchable. As is to be expected from a film that stars a former athlete/fighter, the stunt work is quite good, with some bone-crunching fight sequences. Jagger, while seemingly stuck in the groove of playing every scene with intense fury, at least looks the part of a badass vampire hunter. There is a surprisingly nasty edge to some of the violence (mostly achieved via practical effects, thankfully) as the vampires and Nash both show a sadistic streak when inflicting punishment. And there is an out-of-nowhere gladiatorial sequence that works better than it should.
I do not like to sound sour about so much of CORBIN NASH. If you are indiscriminate when it comes to your delivery system for action and gore, there are far, far worse films that do that. But I just wish it had aspired to be more entertaining or—at the very least—trashy. Really, I wish it tried to be something more than just product—because that is exactly what it feels like.
CORBIN NASH hits VOD on Friday, April 20th, 2018.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)