Lights Out (2024)

Rating: D+

Dir: Christian Sesma
Star: Frank Grillo, Mekhi Phifer, Jaime King, Scott Adkins

Fourth billing is charitable for Adkins. This is closer to “may contain traces of Scott Adkins”, with him present briefly at the beginning, then reappearing at the end as an arms dealer – albeit one with a conscience. In between, it’s Grillo’s film, playing veteran Michael ‘Duffy’ Duffield who returns from the Middle East with PTSD. A briskly executed bar fight brings Duffy to the attention of Max Bomer (Phifer), who convinces the ex-soldier to take part in underground fights. Duffy moves up from parking lot brawls to the Los Angeles fight club circuit. He stays in LA with Max’s sister, but this brings him into contact with corrupt Detective Ellen Ridgway (King), and she has lost a bag of dirty money. 

You can probably more or less assemble the pieces of the story-line the rest of the way. It ends in comrade Don ‘The Reaper’ Richter (Adkins) showing up with a trunk full of weapons, and of course, agreeing to hang around for the final battle, because loyalty. It’s a shame there’s not more Adkins, both since he’s the best thing about this, and there is actual chemistry between Richter and Duffy. If the film had built on that relationship, it might have had something. Despite five minutes of screen time, Adkins gets an executive producer credit, which makes me wonder if he was originally intended to star. Or perhaps his appearance is tied to the cancelled Adkins/Sesna project War Paint.

Anyhoo, it is as forgettably generic as the title, though Grillo is not terrible to watch, as usual. This is negated by the disappointing fight scenes, which are neither adequate in quantity or quality. The film’s action coordinator Luke Lafontaine has basically disowned the movie, saying “A lot of my work was butchered in the bad edit.” For some reason certain of Grillo’s blows are accompanied by X-ray style shots, depicting the internal damage. If this sounds familiar, it was first done in Sonny Chiba’s The Streetfighter. Maybe Sesma was honouring that movie’s fiftieth anniversary? All the weak implementation of the gimmick does here, is leave me wanting to call up Patricia Arquette and go see a Chiba triple feature.

Less interesting still are most of the banal plotting and characters, with things like Ridgway’s money being held by – you may want to write this down – Max’s sister’s skeevy boyfriend. Which is distant enough a relationship to leave me wondering quite why Duffy is involved at all, or how it becomes his problem. The mechanism the film uses involves him killing an undercover cop in one of Duffy’s fights, which is certainly a thing that the writers decided would happen. I will say Sesma in general has a nice eye for composition, with this looking sharp, and slick beyond its likely budget. But in general, it’s the sort of movie which makes me reconsider the wisdom of committing to watch everything in which Adkins appears.

This review is part of Project Adkins, covering the movies of Scott Adkins.