'Samaritan' review: Sylvester Stallone can't level up lousy superhero adventure
Courtesy of Prime Video
At 76 years old, it’s easy to admire the tenacity and blunt force trauma Sylvester Stallone is willing to endure for audiences across the globe. But in “Samaritan,” a low-grade riff on the sub-genre of superhero films that doesn’t involve Marvel or DC, it’s less about the actor’s willingness to throw a few punches and more about him struggling to fit in amid a slouchy narrative with horrendous dialogue and one cartoonish personality. Written by Bragi F. Schut and directed by Julius Avery, “Samaritan” is on brand for Stallone’s late career resurgence of playing the aging, down-on-his-luck working class man who doesn’t know when to throw in the towel like we saw in the last “Rambo” movie. But unlike the “Creed” movies, which found a way to redefine Stallone’s most famous character, Rocky Balboa, “Samaritan,” aside from offering some rousing action sequences, pins the actor into a routine, mentor role who has very little to say and not much to offer.
Set in a grungy, rain coated metropolis that’s riddled with crime, hoodlums, and junkies: the Gotham-esq city has been on a downward trajectory after its most famous heroes: good guy Samaritan and his rival, that’s named, uh, Nemesis disappeared from the scene following an intense shakedown. There are normal folk and conspiracy theorists in the world who believe they’re still walking among society, hiding in plain sight. None more so than Sam Cleary (Javon Walton of “Euphoria”) who keeps a dense log of Samaritan’s accomplishments and incidents. Sam doesn’t have a normal childhood; dad is missing from the picture and mom (Dascha Polanco) is barely making a livable wage to keep them out of eviction. To get by and make a quick buck, the teen gets involved with several shady individuals where he inadvertently stumbles upon a wealthy and psychotic kingpin named Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) who wants to become the next iteration of Nemesis and oversee a lawless society.
This spells bad news for a city that’s already on the brink of societal collapse, but thankfully Samaritan (Stallone) is still around, trying to keep a low profile as Joe Smith, a garbage man who collects and repairs broken antiques. After a shakedown with a few bullies (think Mr. Miyagi pummeling those rowdy teens in “The Karate Kid”), it becomes obvious to Sam that Joe is more than a working class stiff. What else could explain how he can walk away from taking bullets to the chest, getting hit by a car going 70mph and a knife in the back? He can also smash a bowl of cheerios when he’s really angry. Eventually, the two form a kinship that isn’t entirely dull: mainly because Stallone and Walton have a good repertoire and try finding methods of keeping the story gelling.
I enjoyed Avery’s underrated gem “Overload” and he brings those chaotic sensibilities to “Samaritan,” especially with the dozen close-up shots of Stallone’s gruntled face as he reads the room, deciding whether the countless goons chasing him are worthy of his time (seriously, there must have been an open casting call asking for dozens of extras to just stand and get punched in the face by Stallone).
Editors Matt Evans and Pete Berudreau do solid work splicing together the lore of this universe and building on the foundation Schut lays, but in a world already riddled with mindless superhero flicks, it’s incredibly difficult to stand out and find a path forward. You need the wow factor, and while Stallone shows age has no bounds on the silver screen (though judging by the legwork he put in, I’m not sure what more his body could possibly take) and “Samaritan” ultimately has a decent message about finding the good in anyone, it goes down a familiar rabbit hole where it’ll be forgotten as soon as the credits start to roll.
SAMARITAN debuts on Amazon Prime Video Friday, August 26th.