‘The Retaliators’ Upends the ‘Death Wish’ Tradition (For a While)

Bloody vigilante thriller can't make up its mind, and that's a big problem

There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned B-movie, the bloodier the better.

“The Retaliators” is just such a film, except when it isn’t. And, to be clear, it isn’t for much of its running time.

The story of a pastor pushed to the brink by tragedy seems like a clever spin on the “Death Wish” template. Instead, it’s a series of head fakes with an ending so red-blooded it might make Ted Nugent gasp.

The Retaliators (2022) - Official Trailer | VMI Worldwide

Co-director Michael Lombardi stars as Pastor Bishop, a gentle soul who leads his flock in the grand “turn the other cheek” tradition. He’s a devoted father and husband (we assume he’s married, but his wife has so little screen time it’s as if she doesn’t exist), and when he argues with his teen daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) it’s resolved in seconds.

Young Sarah meets her maker courtesy of a hulking thug (Joseph Gatt, the film’s secret weapon), and Pastor Bishop is understandably shattered by the news. A detective (“Alone” standout Marc Menchaca) is on the case, and Pastor Bishop soon gets a chance most crime victim family members never do.

What if he could stare down the monster who killed his daughter? Could that hasten the healing, or would it make matters worse? Does Pastor Bishop’s faith even allow such a scenario?

Not a bad premise, eh?

Indeed, the build-up here is clear-eyed if cheesy, but forgivably so. Add subplots involving drug deals gone south and a peace treaty between warring tribes, and “The Retaliators” starts taking shape.

Screenwriters Darren and Jeff Allen Geare soon lose interest in all of those threads.

They’d rather unleash Gatt, which isn’t a terrible instinct. He’s a sublime movie villain, an unstoppable force who looks like Michael Berryman’s long-lost cousin.

The connection between Pastor Bishop and Menchaca’s detective suggests a fresh spin on the vigilante cycle, but “The Retaliators” can’t be bothered here, either. And the film’s signature set piece, a brawl that upends the entire story structure, demolishes whatever narrative pieces remain.

The blood flows, gushes and streams out of various victims, and some of that orchestration is startling in its intensity. That visceral kick laps our brains processing how silly every ounce of this is.

All the while a heavy metal soundtrack pulses to the beat of another movie, one even more grind house-friendly than this affair.

Oh, and if you’re watching closely you’ll spot a cameo by heavy metal icon Tommy Lee.

The film offers a neat surprise late in the game, a twist that’s inconsequential but also seriously wicked. Beyond that, the film devolves into pure splatter, with all the intriguing themes trotted out in the first act shoved aside.

Curious about the power, and perils, of vengeance? Just kidding, everyone!

HiT or Miss: “The Relatiators” is a grindhouse film with delusions of grandeur, and that dishonesty is its undoing.

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