When Frank Valera (Antonio Banderas) enters a café and sits down at a table but doesn't say anything, not even to the waitress trying to serve him, you may think that a little odd. When he remains seated but listening intently to everything around him, you may wonder what's up with this guy. When he finally hears something that interests him, strides over to the kitchen doors and bursts through, then launches himself at the chef who is coughing, beating him very badly, you may believe he is utterly insane. But there is a method in his madness - you simply have to know the whole story.
Antonio Banderas was one of many ageing stars who took the Liam Neeson route and refashioned himself as an action performer. While Neeson's efforts in that vein were still securing cinematic releases across the globe, Banderas was finding it rather more difficult to achieve that goal, and a smattering of theatrical bookings was all the likes of Act of Vengeance could muster before landing in its more comfortable location of being watched by audiences at home, whether on disc or streaming. He was soon to discover there was a definite market for this kind of material for that viewer, and it rested on the quality of the punch-ups.
It helped if you could ignore the stunt double, and a decent enough director could hide the shots when the leading man or lady was not performing the more strenuous bits, but Banderas was credible enough in this role, especially here as a literally stoic avenger, to pull off the appearance of getting into and out of those scrapes with some skill. Not initially though, as his character gave lie to the Jackie ChanDrunken Master movies as he gets absolutely hammered then steps into the MMA ring to combat fighters bigger and meaner than he will ever be, and as a result gets his ass handed to him pretty decisively. But he is meant to be suffering mightily.
Yes, these bouts of masochistic beatings are intended to be a result of Frank's grief, for his wife and child have recently been murdered, and the police have no leads, leaving him in a netherworld of doubt and confusion and unfulfilled justice. As we flashback from the opening sequence where he asks us if we think he's crazy, we see he is a high-powered lawyer who thinks nothing of allowing the worst people to get off their charges if it means he can be paid handsomely. No surprises that for this hubris, and also the parental crime of missing his daughter's talent show, he must be punished, and the murders are what the plot concocts, sending him into a spiral of depression and alcohol: significantly, his father-in-law (one scene wonder Robert Forster) tells him never to speak to him again.
But Frank goes further, and on literally stumbling across a copy of Marcus Aurelius' writings he is inspired to hunt down the killer or killers, but in a manner befitting the classical author’s teachings and words of wisdom. Which has Banderas shutting up for the rest of the movie, only they cheated and didn't have him entirely silent as he continued to narrate his thoughts on the soundtrack even if he was not voicing them out loud. Throw in some proper combat training and he is a sleuth with two fists, knocking down every bad guy he meets, and somehow forging relationships with sympathetic cop Karl Urban and goodhearted nurse Paz Vega even though they do all the talking and he stays schtum. Although plainly filmed in Eastern Europe and not the United States it was supposed to be, there was a quirky quality to Acts of Vengeance that rendered it fairly diverting, the mystery aspect helping in that respect. Not to be confused with the almost simultaneous Bruce Willis effort Acts of Violence. Music by Frederik Wiedmann.
[Kaleisoscope's Blu-ray has the trailer as a special feature, and that's your lot. Also available on streaming services.]