Waging a war on crime, a former black-ops agent known as the Vigilante (Paul Sloan) and his sidekick the Kid (Kevin L. Walker) become an internet sensation thanks to fun-loving guerrilla filmmaker Mike Hanover (Jason Mewes). Laying low after their last mission, the Vigilante ends up captured by Raven (Chasty Ballesteros), a sultry, torture-loving assassin in league Andreas (Arman Nshanian), an Armenian crimelord seeking revenge for the death of his brother. After narrowly escaping an attempt on his own life Mike hires a crack unit of mercenaries (led by The A-Team's Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) to join the Kid in rescuing the Vigilante. They succeed but thanks to treacherous associate-turned-gangster's moll Red (Jessica Uberuaga) and manipulative CIA agent Barrington (Michael Jai White), the Armenians kidnap the Vigilante's pregnant girlfriend Jade (Jacqueline Lord). It is not long before the Vigilante is on their trail but his crooked mentor Moreau (Michael Madsen) is after him.
Vigilante Diaries began life as a television show, part-funded via a crowdfunding website. Though curtailed after seven episodes the series evidently had enough of a cult following to sire this direct-to-V.O.D. feature that reassembles the core ensemble including Jason Mewes, Kevin L. Walker and star/co-screenwriter Paul Sloan along with some special guest stars. Co-writer/director Christian Sesma parlayed a career as a successful restaurateur into pursuing his passion for making action movies. His steady output of V.O.D. action flicks have thus far proven slick and professional if inconsequential, ensuring little beyond a steady paycheck for longtime direct-to-video staples like Danny Trejo, Michael Jai White, Michael Madsen (who all cameo here) and Luke Goss (who mercifully does not). To Sesma's credit Vigilante Diaries shows him to be a more than competent director of action sequences. The opening shootout in a Jihadi warzone is nicely handled and the film's endless fight scenes showcase solid choreography that play to the strengths of old pros like Jai White. The ensemble cast attack their roles enthusiastically with Mewes performing a variation on his stock horn-dog persona in all those Kevin Smith movies, Sloan a suitably intense brooding anti-hero and vivacious turns from an array of dominatrix types straight out of Sin City (2005).
Playing with ideas clearly inspired by Marvel Comics' The Punisher, Vigilante Diaries opts for the uncomplicated exploitation route. It will thus likely fail to amass an enduring following especially in the aftermath of the Netflix adaptation that delivers wall-to-wall pulp action with more substantial drama. Sesma and Sloan, whose other screenwriting efforts include Stiletto (2008) and the John Travolta vigilante thriller I Am Wrath (2016), don't stint on the gore, action or sexy naked women despite an unsettling tendency to relish bumping off a succession of femme fatales in lieu of actual sex. The plot abandons its sub-Man Bites Dog (1992) guerrilla filmmaker conceit pretty quickly and plods from one mindless, repetitive shootout to another. Unusually for a low-budget V.O.D. thriller the action unfolds across an array of eye-catching international locations, moving from California to Armenia, Moscow to London and Glasgow (where the locals are subtitled). Alas none of this globe-hopping amounts to much. Things grow especially tedious once the action hits Armenia, ditching the lively supporting cast so Sloan can live out his James Bond fantasies tracking Andreas who struts around inexplicably dressed like Rasputin, living the high life with Red. Just as abruptly the third act wraps up with a scenario sort of like a cheapo Casino Royale (2006) meets The Rock (1996). It wheels out a new sidekick for the Vigilante (the impressive tattooed and charismatic Levy Tran) to takes on Barrington's own Asian femme fatale companion (Mary Christina Brown) while our hero races to stop nuclear warheads raining down on cities around the world.
Although Sesma and Sloan cite Eighties action movies as their chief inspiration the film actually riffs on the usual indie idols Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie and especially Quentin Tarantino. Specifically Kill Bill (2003). Which is evident enough from the presence of Madsen and Jai White (whose scenes were cut from the theatrical cut of Kill Bill). However, Vigilante Diaries also also blatantly apes QT's time-bending story techniques (with chapter headings again lifted from Kill Bill), rockabilly soundtrack, hipster dialogue and laboured pop culture metaphors. That and a propensity for torture scenes and tough guy posturing (in lieu of actual toughness) wherein it is hard not to feel that the filmmakers have a raging hard-on for violent sociopaths. Jade's pregnancy ought to provide the impetus for the Vigilante's crusade yet the coda implies he would rather do anything else than be with his wife and child.