Each year millions of migrants journey north from Mexico in search of a better future or to run and hide from their past. Bryant (Michael Jai White) is an ex-cop who is one of those people with hopes of starting a new life. Due to his secret past, Bryant has put himself into witness protection. Now he keeps in shape to pass the time and works as a surveyor, also teaching his martial arts apprentice, Oscar (Luca Oriel), in self-defence. Oscar has consistently found that keeping on a straight path has not been easy, especially when dealing with the local street gangs and family matters.
While life for Bryant has been quiet and peaceful as he stays under the radar with minimal interactions with others, his world and past are about to be shaken. When Oscar’s brother gets out of jail early, he gets into unexpected trouble. Oscar enters a fight with hopes of earning some prize money and proving to others that he can stand up for himself; however, what Oscar doesn’t realise is that his fighting style was recorded and uploaded online. The online video is soon seen by the wrong kind of people, including a dangerous criminal named Sonny (Tom Berenger), who is serving hard time in jail. Sonny puts out a hit, and Bryant’s mysterious past is about to be revealed. Bryant and Oscar are in great danger and will need their martial arts and armed weaponry skills to defend themselves.
As Good As Dead is an action film with a minor thriller element. If you were to combine titles such as The Karate Kid, The Marine and Rambo, this would be what you get. The film knows what it is and repeatedly references other action heroes and titles, comparing them to their various situations, which is fun for film buffs. The film opens with many mysteries, which instantly makes it engaging. To begin with, Bryant barely speaks a word. As the plot progresses, audiences slowly gain an understanding of his past while hiding in Mexico and why he is so well-trained and dangerous.
The movie shines the strongest whenever actor Michael Jai White is on screen. His character of Bryant is highly likable and enjoyable, and the actor displays humble and pleasing confidence. The film dips in its level of excitement and entertainment whenever his character is off-screen. Luca Oriel as Oscar is sadly a weaker aspect of the film. Not only does his character remind me so much of a carbon copy of Daniel from The Karate Kid, but he also makes non-stop poor choices and enjoys complaining or whinging. Other side characters are also unmemorable, including Tom Berenger as the villain Sonny, which realistically could have been done by any actor, and similar results could have been achieved.
The action scenes here are a significant highlight. Each action sequence is fun and brainless, and, thanks to Michael Jai White, the film includes a few kills that are surprising to the point that I couldn’t help but find them funny and enjoyable. Granted, moments of gunfire look fake, as if the effect were added later. Blood splats, for the most part, also look fake, and at times, blood splatter also looks like a paintball gun was used. I can forgive these kinds of flaws, though, because, again, the film knows what it is, and while a low budget is evident, it’s still pleasing for fans of Michael Jai White. However, one aspect that isn’t as forgivable is the soundtrack. This area could have been improved significantly as it felt unfitting and, at times, repetitive. The sound effects were enjoyable and, for the most part, well done.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Michael Jai White as an actor, you’ll be delighted with his presence and action style. The film is weaker whenever the actor is off-screen and lacks fun, excitement and entertainment when he is gone. Many references are made to other action films and well-known actors, with this film accepting that it is a mash-up of films it admires, such as The Karate Kid, The Marine and most importantly, Rambo. Effects are hit and miss, but it is highly forgivable as it still manages to be a delight and deliver multiple moments of brainless action. The musical score is a significant drawback, along with a few side performances, such as the easily forgettable villain. Lovers of B-grade action films will get a kick out of this, and it exceeded my expectations. As Good As Dead (2022) is Available on DVD & Digital from February 8th.