This marks a first for any action movie I've ever seen: a tough, PTSD-suffering, suicidal ex-soldier takes a U.S. government agent job for the health benefits.
But not for himself. For his severely injured sister who has no health insurance.
"Falcon Rising"★ ★
Starring: Michael Jai White, Laila Ali, Neal McDonough, Masashi Odate
Directed by: Ernie Barbarash
Other: A Freestyle Releasing release. At the Streets of Woodfield Theaters in Schaumburg. Rated R for sexual references, violence. 103 minutes
Ernie Barbarasha's "Falcon Rising" is clearly intended to be the start of a franchise series about John "Falcon" Chapman, who has returned from Afghanistan a broken man suffering from traumatizing flashbacks every time he hears a loud noise.
"Black Dynamite" star Michael Jai White plays Chapman as a tormented soul in the vein of Mel Gibson's suicidal cop, Martin Riggs, from "Lethal Weapon."
Chapman gains a terrible life purpose when his cute kid sister Cindy (Laila Ali) winds up nearly dead on a beach in Rio where she has been an activist and social worker for the poor and needy.
Chapman heads down to Rio to settle accounts and runs into every walking Third World cliché known to hack screenwriters, among them a devoutly religious head of a police unit, the extremely white American ambassador/U.S. agent Manny (Neal McDonough) and helpless preteen girls sold into sexual slavery by a corrupt system.
White is the singular reason to see "Falcon Rising." He can move his massive, rippling muscled body with surprising agility and speed. (He casually back-kicks a thug in the face with the grace and power of a weightlifting ballet dancer on steroids.)
When he goes into action, we are witness to the real deal, raw physical power that needs no stunt-doubles or Jason Bourne-esque flash editing.
To the movie's detriment, White doesn't get to show us what he can really do until 30 minutes into the story, then again near the end when he takes on three armed baddies, among them two corrupt cops and a Japanese Yakuza leader brandishing a sharp ceremonial sword.
Chapman, exuding Bruce Lee cool in the face of overwhelming opposition, cleverly repurposes a crucifix and bathroom pipes as defensive devices. Call it weaponry by Mario Brothers.
Regretfully, the dialogue in "Falcon Rising" could also be by Mario Brothers, with cheesy cornball comments such as "We'll get to the bottom of this!" and "Things are not what they seem!"
Who talks like this?
Fortunately, Chapman does get to the bottom of this, but only because the Rio thugs apparently have so much time on their hands that they can meticulously read every page of Cindy's diary and rip out only those with incriminating information, inadvertently leaving behind clues for Chapman to follow.
In the end, the Falcon reluctantly signs up for the next mission with U.S. intelligence.
Not because he's a patriot.
Not because he needs a job.
But because as a U.S. agent, he can get health care for his sister, who will need years of therapy and medicine to get well again.
That makes this the first badly written action movie I've seen that wins points for both having a conscience and a clever title.
For indeed, this is "Falcon Rising" to the occasion. But will Cindy be required to go only to VA hospitals?