For all intents and purposes, Scott Adkins’ career took off in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, under Isaac Florentine’s direction in 2006; this was the first time he played the role of Yuri Boyka, a Russian prison fighter or, as he likes to describe himself, “the most complete fighter in the world”. Albeit born as the lead character’s antagonist in what was a sequel to Undisputed (one of Walter Hill’s lesser creations), he would end up remodelling the films’ core, from prison exploitation-drama to mixed martial arts franchise. Whereas the turn of the millennium meant the digitalisation of the Western hero, Boyka represented a return to 80s action movie basics: footwork in the fashion of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acrobatics paroxysms, and the epic archetype of the sweaty, bruised body forever tense – with some anabolic steroids thrown in, of course. The Undisputed franchise would define Adkins’ career, but also limit its reach: too far away from Cannon Films and big-shot Hollywood, further yet from Asia, his work seemed trapped in limbo.
However, the aspirations of this action-oriented Stakhanovist didn’t stop there, nor in the occasional roles that Hollywood has somewhat condescendingly given him. In a time ruled by giants such as Marvel and DC, Adkins dared to go down the path of comic book adaptation with Accident Man. Based on a series of comic strips written by Pat Mills (2000 AD, Judge Dredd) and Tony Skinner, initially printed in Toxic! in the early 1990s, Accident Man revolves around the story of a temperamental, high-class hitman who specialises in making his murders looking like accidents.
Adkins’ “dream project” features himself as lead actor, producer and co-writer and is armed with a good amount of story material for the average audience, yet only a very small fraction of the budget that large entertainment corporations get. Its international distribution as direct-to-video (in fact, merely digital in some countries), however, entertains the thought that rather than an accident man, we could be staring at a very determined one.
Accustomed to smashing skulls while emulating seemingly impossible accents, the Scouser kickboxer is a rather high-class Mike Fallon, in stark contrast to Boyka’s hastiness or Ninja’s Casey Bowman’s taciturn mood. One thing he doesn’t do, however, is renounce the use of leather jackets and jeans which, by now, are well-established as an aesthetic cliché in his most recent work.
Consequently, the cinematography acquires an aspirational level. We’re presented with a colourful London, moving away from the harsh monochrome of previous works. The crime underworld depiction draws inspiration from Guy Ritchie’s work, with accelerated sequences and syncopal time leaps, such as the long flashback delving into the relationship between Fallon and his boss Big Ray which is, perhaps surprisingly, very much in touch with the original comic strips.
The dialogue is almost constant, explosive, with a good balance between humour and irony (one word: Brexit). There’s a certain self-consciousness that’s a little reminiscent of Deadpool. However, Adkins’ determination to turn his dialogue into male bravado denotes a much more direct influence of the exuberant Cobra, albeit with a less excessive tone. This allusion to George Pan Cosmatos’ sweaty classic isn’t completely gratuitous. Accident Man also breaks the conventions of previously known movie-Adkins and introduces a slight neo-noir intrigue, just like Cobra. The anti-hero’s mission takes centre stage, relegating the choreographic work to a secondary position. This is further enhanced by the neoclassical taste of director Jesse V. Johnson, with whom Adkins had already collaborated in Savage Dog, who strongly favours open planes and more relaxed and graceful camerawork surrounding the actors, rather than chasing them or subjugating them to great post-Bourne action machines. There’s also a large variety of locations, which is a welcome change from the typical triple-location mindset of direct-to-video films.
This philosophy, as well as the film’s logistics, filmed over little more than 20 days, explains why the fight scenes were under the second unit direction of Tim Man (Mad Max video game). The explosive and acrobatic style of the Swedish choreographer, perhaps the one who has best showcased Adkins’ abilities to date, is fully recognisable in these scenes. This is especially true in the strenuous final battle against stunt performer Amy Johnston (Deadpool, Suicide Squad) who, usually working as specialist in the shadows of Hollywood, shows her lethal cinematographic personality, a true femme fatale in every sense of the word.
However, all that effort to surpass expectations, to be more than a mere direct-to-video, leads to some degree of disintegration of the end result, perhaps because that same ambition feels outdated, morose of others who arrived earlier. This doesn’t seem to happen with other works in Adkins’ filmography which would generally be considered inferior, such as Eliminators or Close Range: simpler and more austere, but also more painful when ramming their metaphorical right fist into your face. I suppose this situation is best interpreted in context: almost parallel to Accident Man, Acts of Vengeance emerged on Netflix. Even without being present, the trace of its relevance is there; the ritual has been overcome. Adkins doesn’t have to prove anything. He doesn’t even need Accident Man as an excuse to become an icon. He already is…admittedly, at the expense of many blows to the head.
Dir: Jesse V. Johnson
Scr: Stu Small, Scott Adkins
Cast: Scott Adkins, Ashley Greene, Ray Stevenson, Michael Jai White, Ray Park, David Paymer, Perry Benson, Amy Johnston, Nick Moran, Ross O’Hennessy
Prd: Scott Adkins, Craig Baumgarten, Ben Jacques, Erik Kritzer
DOP: Duane McClunie
Music: Sean Murray
Country: United Kingdom
Runtime: 105 minutes
Accident Man is available on digital download and DVD. Killer bonus features include “Assassin’s Roll Call”, Violent Ballet: Filming the Fights” and audio commentary with Scott Adkins and Stu Small.