“I thought you quit,” says Machiavellian kingpin Ray Barren (Robert Miano) to his smoking minion Bobby (Pete Porteous) near the beginning of Josh Tessier’s Overrun. “I thought you quit,” replies Bobby, as Ray takes his cigarette and has a puff. “I did,” says Ray, before heading in to torture Yuri Dubkova (Nick Benseman) for the whereabouts of a briefcase belonging to Yuri’s Russian mobster father Arkadi (Bruce Dern). Not long afterwards, at the scene where Yuri’s corpse has been found, intense police detective Blake Finning (Johnny Messner) says to his amiably bumbling colleague James Walsh (Chris Tallman), “I thought you quit those,” to which James, with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, replies, “Well, I haven’t smoked for six months – it doesn’t count as long as you don’t like the damn thing.” Left with younger officer Ellen Burke (Haley Strode), James asks, “Do you mind if I smoke?”. Ellen looks at him, and says, “I do.”
Once a staple of cinema, cigarettes have now become a taboo, their carcinogenic smoke now confined largely to on-screen history. Here they serve as a metaphor for a film which, though set in the present, just cannot quit old habits let alone leave them to die hard, and so keeps going back for another puff on the tropes of the Eighties action flick. Ray needs someone to steal the MacGuffin-like briefcase from a safe in Arkadi’s well-guarded base, and so turns to ex-soldier Marcus Lombardi (Omid Zader), who has fallen into Ray’s orbit and cannot break free. “You were an extraction specialist with the Delta Force, weren’t you?”, Ray tells the muscle-bound veteran. “I mean, if something needed to be retrieved using unconventional means, you were the man to call.” And so Marcus infiltrates the base (a converted mausoleum, naturally) with remote help from his friend Auggy Riggs (Jack Griffo) – who, as a modern, tech-literate brony, significantly vapes rather than smokes. Given Marcus’ special skills (essentially at hitting people hard), the heist turns out to be easier than anyone had imagined, but soon Marcus will find himself double-crossed, framed for Yuri’s murder and on the run, with a quartet of assassins (Monette Moio, Kevin Makely, Michael Wayne Foster, Noah Fleder) vying for the reward that Arkadi has placed on Marcus’ head.
Internecine gangland battles, cops both straight and dirty, larger-than-life bounty hunters, a chase in a ‘mannequin warehouse’, a stand-off in a junkyard (rigged with explosives), a damsel in distress (Marcus’ sister Reyna, played by Chelsey Goldsmith) – Tessier’s film is indeed overrun with self-conscious clichés, as its ensemble plotting pits different hard men (and women) against one another while, as both chase and punch-up movie, favouring flight and fight equally. In a self-aware gesture towards its old-school status, it is also packed with veterans and old-timers of different kinds – not just the ageing, heirless underworld leaders Ray and Arkadi, but also Marcus’ old war buddy Doc (Nicholas Turturro), and the cops’ grey, terminally ill mentor Detective Ed Dobbs, a corrupted figure played by William Katt as though to mark him as no longer The Greatest American Hero he once was in the Eighties.
Director Tessier and star/producer Zader are themselves veteran stunt actors and coordinators, and unsurprisingly their focus is on Marcus muscling his way through every predicament. He is a charming hero, his doe eyes telling us that, however compromised he may be by circumstance, he is no bad man – and unlike the duplicitous criminals around him, Marcus honours every deal that he makes along the way. The film’s ultimate message, delivered in more than one narrative strand, is that real family trumps criminal fraternity, and blood relations are better than blood spilt. Though inevitably violent (it is an action movie), Overrun is also light in tone and surprisingly sweet-natured, with cynicism, though certainly present, denied the right to triumph. So if you are looking for knowingly absurd Eighties posturing and hard-hitting, occasionally stabby mano a mano, this one never quits.
strap: Josh Tessier’s crime caper delivers self-consciously old-school, stunt-driven action with a bruise on its fist and a glint in its eye
© Anton Bitel