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-[Film Reviews]-, European Cinema, Spanish Cinema

‘Xtreme’ (2021): Action Requires Motivation

Directed by: Daniel Benmayor || Produced by: Vicente Canales, Julieta Videla, Adriana Martínez, Barron

Screenplay by: Teo García, Iván Ledesma, Genaro Rodríguez || Starring: Teo García, Óscar Jaenada, Óscar Casas, Andrea Duro, Andrea Duro, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Alberto Jo Lee

Music by: Julio de la Rosa || Cinematography: Daniel Aranyó || Edited by: Oriol Pérez, Elena Ruiz || Country: Spain || Language: Spanish

Running Time: 111 minutes

About a year ago, a somewhat obscure Spanish action movie with a funny name charted on Netflix’s Top 10 Movies; it caught my attention due to its archetypal revenge-driven premise and alleged hardcore, “extreme” violence: Xtremo (stylized form of “Extremo,” or “Extreme” in English). Written by star Teo García and directed by established filmmaker Daniel Benmayor, Xtreme is one of countless John Wick (2014, 2017, 2019)-style genre films about aging gunslingers, tribal warriors, hitmen, assassins, gangbangers, retired special forces operatives, etc. who leave but later return to their bloody professions due to some transgression against them by a primary villain, which most often involves killing, kidnapping, and/or assaulting a loved one. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s Wick franchise is of course only the most successful recent iteration of this long established action movie formula, because auteurs as eclectic as Quentin Tarantino (e.g. Kill Bill [2003-2004]), as abstract as Robert Eggers (e.g. The Northman [2022]), or as old-school as Martin Campbell (e.g. The Foreigner [2017]) have made entertaining, memorable cinematic projects out of the most simple yet relatable justifications for telling a story about violence through violence.

Writer-star Teo García shows talent as an athlete, choreographer, and star, but as a screenwriter, he does not inspire confidence based on this feature.

To avoid any needless suspense, Xtreme is nowhere as effective as a Tarantino, Campbell, or Eggers-vehicle, and is in fact a rather poor action film for reasons I’ll explore in a moment (it’s more comparable to the Filipino Netflix Original Maria [2019] given its bad pacing and lazy narrative structure). I recalled the movie this past week, however, due to my underwhelming response to the Russo Bros.’ The Gray Man (2022), specifically because of that movie’s lackluster editing both within particular action scenes and across its greater story. Both The Gray Man and Xtreme suffer from similar weaknesses despite their differences in scope and budget (the Russo Bros.’ latest cost about $200 million, while I’d wager Xtreme didn’t come close to a quarter of that), most of which are a function of screenwriting and/or editing missteps that fail to establish proper motivation for the story’s over-the-top carnage.

The premise of Xtreme is almost superfluous besides its mildly interesting setup of writer-protagonist García’s vendetta against antagonist Óscar Jaenada: After a cool ambush of a rival gang, Jaenada turns on Garcia — partners at the film’s outset — with little justification; the story then jumps several years ahead as Garcia executes his revenge at a snail’s pace via a longwinded, incoherent plan, working with some forgettable supporting characters (Andrea Duro, Óscar Casas) along the way.

The main issues with a movie like Xtreme, as I stated earlier, have to do with how its screenplay and editing — both within and between sequences — fail to gel with its aggressive action premise. Similar to The Gray Man, Xtreme’s overall narrative structure as presented undercuts its action instead of feeding into it like a well oiled roller coaster with peaks and valleys of emotional intensity; Xtreme’s narrative is slow and plodding whereas The Gray Man felt rushed and hyperactive, moving from fight scene to fight scene with all the urgency of a glacier. Unlike many big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, however, Xtreme’s action sequences are bloody and its choreography, impactful. The problem here is that most of Benmayer and García’s action sequences feel so similar to one another that they blur together in a forgettable mishmash of repetitive, gory pulp that rarely moves the story along or raises narrative stakes in a meaningful way.

Put another way, Xtreme has too many pointless action scenes even at a lean 111 minutes in length, the vast majority of which involve 2-3 combatants with little escalation in tension or variation in scenery. García, who I assume choregraphed many if not all of these set-pieces, seems focused on showing off his physique, neat weapon props, and various mixed martial arts techniques instead of using action to power the larger story; there is no suspenseful build toward an explosion of rage like Keanu Reeves’ quiet infiltration of a Russian club to hunt down Alfie Allen in John Wick, nor any careful stalking of a target while hiding in plain site a la Alexander Skarsgaard in The Northman. Xtreme, even more so than a Gray Man or a generic superhero feature, never meshes its genre flourishes (i.e. its numerous fight scenes) with its screenplay’s genre premise (i.e. how its grizzled hero attempts payback).

Villain Óscar Jaenada shakes things up in Xtreme’s opening sequence before the film gets boring.

In a way, Xtreme represents a prime example of how cool action, with all its visual style and immersive, believable choreography, cannot alone power an interesting, tense narrative without a sound written outline to weave it together with workable characters, narrative momentum, and perhaps even thematic content. I toyed with the idea several days ago of combining this essay with my review of the Russo Bros.’ Gray Man because the latter reminded of this Spanish movie’s faults in many ways — problematic pacing, bad editing throughout, etc. — but at its core, Xtreme’s problems are far more fundamental due to how divorced its cinematographic style is from its actual story. I’ve said this before about similar movies, but even a science-fiction, creature-feature, or hardcore action movie (some of my personal favorite genres of cinema) cannot work for me if its cinematic fundamentals are not sound, like the blueprint of an idealized custom home built atop a foundation of sand.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Xtreme is the probable result of athletic, otherwise competent martial artists and choreographers trying and failing to execute a straightforward, “badass” revenge film. There’s little cause-and-effect rhythm to the story beyond its opening scene, while its frontloaded action scenes are repetitive, unimaginative, and do little to progress the overarching story regardless of how graphic they are. I barely mentioned any of the main cast or their characters because they’re all so forgettable.

However… its cinematic violence is at least uncensored relative to most mainstream genre films.

—> Xtreme is NOT RECOMMENED because nothing about it is extreme in any sense, not its style nor its substance. Even a somewhat generic, by-the-numbers Hollywood legacy sequel like Last Blood (2019), also a revenge film and starring Óscar Jaenada, is head and shoulders above this.

? Use something besides a katana.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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