16th Nov2017

‘Never Leave Alive’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: John Hennigan, Michelle Taylor, Eric Etebari, Joseph Gatt, J. Michael Evans | Written by J. Amanda Sabater | Directed by Steven LaMorte

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Never Leave Alive is the latest star vehicle for wrestler/actor John Hennigan (who wrestled for WWE under the name John Morrison, and currently wrestles for TNA and Lucha Underground as Johnny Impact and Johnny Mundo respectively), who has parlayed his in-ring skills into leading man status in a number of action movies such as Hercules Reborn and his passion project Boone: The Bounty Hunter.

His latest film sees Hennigan playing world-renown hunter Rick Rainsford, who boat capsizes, leaving him trapped on a deserted island with his reluctant companion, Anna. While attempting to save another gravely injured survivor the pair find themselves hunted by Zaroff, a sociopathic ex-KGB Agent along with his partner Ivan. In spite of their differences Rick and Anna must work together to disarm Zaroff’s deadly traps, survive his assistant’s brutal attacks, and escape the island alive.

Yes, we’re in The Most Dangerous Game territory once again with Never Leave Alive… In fact so close to Richard Connell’s original story is Steven LaMorte’s film that the characters have the same names as the 1924 tale and various key plot points are kept in this film version too!

Like the 1924 story, the film is essentially a four character production, relying heavily on Hennigan’s performance to carry the film. And here he manages to add an extra layer to his regular action hero persona, taking what should be a traditional good guy role and subverting it slightly through arrogant, alcoholic behaviour – making his take on Rainsford more of an anti-hero than the original. Thank god then for Michelle Taylor’s photographer Ann – a strong-willed, self-sufficient heroine who, for the most part, doesn’t really need any help from Rainsford and who is the perfect foil for Hennigan’s know-it-all, big-headed hunter.

Meanwhile Eric Etebari’s Zaroff is nothing more than a mere stereotypical “maniacal villain” bad guy trope; yet Joseph Gatt’s Ivan has surprising depth for what is a traditional “bad-guy’s sidekick” role – his journey from evil henchman to tired of being villainous henchman works well to both develop the character and move the story forward. It’s an interesting choice to make Ivan the strong character when Zaroff, the films main villain, should be the one whose complexitites effect the outrcome of this particular hunt.

Whilst the film is filled with a sense of danger and urgency, Never Leave Alive is light on actual physical action. Yes, there might be a lot of running around, escaping from the enemy etc., but Hennigan, save for a knife fight in the films final moments, never really gets to unleash his usual combat and parkour skills – which is a shame because they worked really well in his previous film Boone and this film could have really used the same high energy action set pieces. Though he does bring the same playful attitude to this film that we’ve seen previously.

Solidly directed Never Leave Alive isn’t as successful as Boone: The Bounty Hunter but, much like the early films of his wrestler-turned-actor brethren, this is another fantastic stepping stone to action movie superstardom for Hennigan; and given his skills and charisma, it’s something he undoubtedly deserves.

Never Leave Alive is available on VOD now from Wild Eye Releasing.

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