|The film speed of 24 frames-per-second barely outruns the relentless pace of pummeling that thumps through the Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid: Redemption.
Hollywood's eye for talent is acute for nothing so much as an action director, and in Gareth Huw Evans, it hopes to have found a filmmaker to resurrect the fist-flying genre of Bruce Lee. The Welsh filmmaker has mined the Indonesian fighting style of Silat, which he first sought out to document and then fictionalized in the little-seen 2009 film Merantau.
The Raid, fashioned as a prequel to "Merantau," was made with much of the same team, including Iko Uwais, who both plays our hero, Rama, and choreographed the fighting. After building buzz at festivals, it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, which has made the subtitled Indonesian film more palatable to American audiences by slapping on a nu-metal score by Mike Shinoda of Lincoln Park and Joseph Trapanese.
Narrative complexity is not a relevant quality to The Raid, which Evans also wrote and edited. Like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, it's set almost entirely in one location: a dilapidated, monolithic, 15-story high rise in Jakarta.
A 20-member SWAT team is storming the building to turn out the crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who has fashioned an impenetrable lair out of the tall slum. He waits on the 15th floor with henchmen Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian, also a fight choreographer) and Andi (Doni Alamsyah) at his side, an army of gang members at the ready and floors of poor tenants who'll do his bidding.
Rama, who we first see working out and praying before leaving his pregnant wife for the mission, is only a rookie among the police force. They're led by the graying Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), whose motives quickly come into question from team leader Jaka (Joe Taslim, a former Judo champ).
The siege is immediately overmatched, locked in a maze of grimy hallways and surrounded by psychopathic gunmen who rain bullets on the cowering police. Tama watches from above through surveillance cameras, giving directives to the building's inhabitants.
As the police numbers dwindle, Rama stands apart for his fighting acumen. The battle ebbs from machine guns to machetes and ultimately to fists and feet. The bad guys (mostly clad in T-shirts and looking downright casual in their violence) carefully observe martial arts movie tradition, coming one at a time.
Small amounts of backstory bleed out of the action, but there's little propelling things beside the simple kinetic kick of the film's video game-like plot, the next guy coming around the corner.
The claustrophobia of the film's dingy, byzantine corridors could be taken for a metaphor for escaping omnipresent corruption (Rama may be the only decent one in the building). But any such thought evaporates in the never-ending flurry of combat.
The fighting is blisteringly paced, uncluttered by character development. In a director's statement, Evans acknowledges such a narrow focus, rhapsodizing on giving audiences a "crystal clear shot of a kick to the head."
In one of the few bits of substantial dialogue, Mad Dog explains his ethos to a captive, as he lays down his gun and implores a hand-to-hand fight.
"This is the pulse," he says, looking at his deadly bare hands. Pulling a trigger, he sniggers, is "like ordering take-out."
The Raid: Redemption will offer a full meal to action-starved moviegoers, but strike most others as -- for all its athletic dynamism -- lacking nutrition.
The Raid: Redemption, a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, and language. Indonesian with English subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: Two stars out of four