01st May2018

‘Killing Joan’ Review

by Nik Holman

Stars: Jamie Bernadette, Teo Celigo, Erik Aude, David Carey Foster, Daniel Gardner | Written and Directed by Todd Bartoo

KILLING-JOAN-KEY-ART-FLAT

Joan is an enforcer known for her ruthless tactics and wild, reckless lifestyle. After she is double crossed and left for dead, she becomes a vengeful spirit, wielding dark and mysterious powers. Can she use these abilities to take down those who wronged her without sacrificing her own soul?

Jamie Bernadette does her best to pave a new road for the title’s kill-crazy, hyper-sexed Joan. But like any good anti-hero, Joan isn’t all bad; she has a strong sense of loyalty to her underworld boss, Frank (David Carey Foster). The demented, yet strangely sweet, father/daughter dynamic between these two characters is one of the solid points to the film. Joan also has a knack for saving the helpless dregs of society, or at least not murdering them. She’s a good bad guy, or is she a bad good guy? Either way, the lines get blurry and that’s exactly how an R-rated hero should be.

Yet, no matter how great Bernadette looks while sporting a big gun and leather pants, there’s no getting around the fact that Joan looks like a very pretty actress successfully steering through a violent underbelly crime world. It’s become the staple in Hollywood to feature waifish thin women kicking the ass of 250 lbs. bodybuilders, and if that’s not fantasy, I don’t know what is. However, Killing Joan flips that trend on its ear when Joan is pummeled by her traitorous crew while barely getting in a single punch. This scene is all the more disturbing to watch, not just because a woman is being beaten to death by a group of men, but the helpless, futile way Joan tries to escape, only to be beaten further. She doesn’t go down swinging, she begs for her life, and it’s uncomfortable to watch because it’s heart-wrenching, so realistic.

Except for the total lack of blood.

For a gritty film about murder, and drugs, and prostitution, and more murder, it is also entirely bloodless. I’m sure there are budget reasons for this, the film is very heavy on CGI in the later half, but for a movie about murder (Killing is literally in the title), and this is a huge misstep. I’d love to be the mob goon who has to clean up the bodies in this world. People are shot, stabbed, beaten with crowbars, and the walls and floors are clean as a whistle. Talk about an easy paycheck! For an action movie, the fight scenes are uninspired to the point of boring. I’m not asking for high-kicks and Judo chops, but I would like a bloody nose and some heavy breathing. Let me at least pretend something is at stake.

The dialogue is truly awful. Joan’s crew sounds like they’re ad-libbing through most of their scenes. The dialogue between her crew is lousy with “Uh?” and “Oh, yeah!” Normally, I would advise to let the writers do the writing, but given the quality of the script, maybe letting three dudes ramble for a couple minutes was the best option. I give credit to the cast for trying to make something out of nothing. These actors commit to the script, and God love them, they deserve every dollar they made. Joan growls one-liners like, “You’re going to see what a woman’s wrath looks like.” And when Joan is warned, “Blood will fill the streets tonight.” She replies, “Yes, but I will do the bloodletting.” All with a straight face! I literally laughed at the TV and scared my poor dog half to death.

I’m not familiar with the other works of writer/director Todd Bartoo, but maybe street-level crime noir doesn’t play to his strengths. A low budget crime thriller should be easy to make for a director with limited means, but Killing Joan isn’t happy down in the gutters where it belongs, it wants to soar with the eagles of superhero blockbusters, and we all know what happens when you fly too closely to the sun. Well, if you went to public school then you probably don’t know. You fail when you fly to closely. This film simply never had the funds to create the quality CGI that Joan’s shadowy powers require. Ultimately, Killing Joan fails.

Killing Joan would make a better comic book. There is a great story to be told, but with poor dialogue, uneven acting, and sloppy fight scenes, this isn’t the way to tell it.

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