- Brandon Streussnig
Super Anti-Hero: Accident Man II
Direct to Video action is in a bit of an odd spot at the moment.
Long gone is the heyday of the mid-to-late aughts, when discovering true Walmart bin blood diamonds like Undisputed II (2007) or Blood and Bone (2009) was a regular occurrence because, frankly, money isn’t being poured into the genre nearly as much as it used to be. That’s not to say good work isn’t still being done, but if it isn’t streamers eating up a wealth of resources, causing the great content decline, the genre’s often populated by borderline unwatchable hack jobs where aging hams like John Travolta and, until recent and upsetting events, Bruce Willis, go to have the last bit of movie star meat devoured from their bones.
True DTV heads know the score, though, and even during fallow periods, you can’t lose faith. There’s always at least one face melter that’ll sneak into our year end lists, and that spot is increasingly being reserved for something starring Scott Adkins. If you’re already reading this, chances are you know Adkins' work. The impossibly handsome Brit with a granite jaw, charisma for days, and honest-to-god world class martial arts ability has been starring in DTV action for almost twenty years now. A good portion of his work, like the Undisputed series or Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), can realistically be placed among the best it's 21st Century brethren.
The most diehard of Adkins' fans (this author chief among them) spend a not insignificant amount of time wondering how Hollywood missed the boat with such an obvious star. Instead of being the next Arnold or Sly, his big mainstream breaks usually consist of being Goon #2 fighting franchise figures like Jason Bourne or Doctor Strange. As maddening as it is that he’s not on marquees everywhere next to Vin Diesel or The Rock, we've come to accept it because the man provides us with a wealth of cool shit almost every year on budgets a fraction of a fraction that those other guys enjoy. As we close out 2022, Adkins not only delivered yet another DTV heater in Accident Man 2: Hitman's Holiday, but also a movie that’s in the conversation for the best thing he’s ever made. In doing so, Scott Adkins once again reminds you why he’s almost single-handedly saving small scale action cinema.
The first Accident Man (2017) is among many Adkins’ fans’ favorites; a silly, cartoon-esque smash 'em up that, at the time, felt like a departure for both the beautiful bruiser and his regular director, Jesse V. Johnson. Based on the comic book of the same name about the goofy exploits of assassin Mike Fallon, Accident Man leaned heavy on the slapstick comedy while maintaining the breathless fights and explosive set pieces we’ve come to expect from our main man. However, Johnson’s grittier direction never feels quite at home, and that holds the first installment in this newly minted series back from being a true top tier Adkins programmer like Undisputed III: Redemption (2010) or Johnson’s own high water mark, Avengement (2019).
Adkins has made no bones about this property meaning a great deal to him. It’s a comic he loved growing up, and talks of a sequel had bounced around for years. You got the feeling that Adkins himself always felt like there was something missing that a return to the character could iron out and make truly special. Teaming with stuntmen-turned-directors George and Harry Kirby and co-writer Stu Small, Adkins brings us back to Fallon’s world of high-octane silliness in Hitman’s Holiday, and within five minutes you realize that this is the movie Scott Adkins was practically born to make.
If you listen to interviews with Adkins, you immediately pick up on his tremendous sense of humor. It’s something he hasn’t always been allowed to show off, but the man’s timing is as quick as his kicks. Hitman’s Holiday plays like The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) filtered through a violently zany '80s Hong Kong film. We pick up with Mike Fallon on vacation (or exile, rather) in Malta, after being banished from London following the last film’s events. Before long, he’s run into an old friend, the Q to his James Bond, Finicky Fred (Perry Benson), and gets tangled up in a convoluted plot to assassinate a mafia boss’ son, only to wind up having to protect the poor underworld piglet. As you'd expect, a colorful cadre of assassins descends upon Malta, and it’s up to Mike to knock them off one by one.
Hitman's Holiday is bare bones, but that’s fine, because the movie's only interested in being a mile-a-minute fight/comedic showcase for Adkins. In today’s action landscape, where so much of the humor is irritating and self-aware, Hitman’s Holiday refreshingly trades on sincere goofiness. Like Inspector Clouseau, Fallon has an assistant that he pays to attack him when he least expects it to keep him on his toes. There’s a killer clown with a mallet who can’t feel pain, so Mike goes to increasingly ridiculous lengths to hurt him, capping each blow off with “C’mon, you felt that! Right??” It’s Tom & Jerry tomfoolery with nary a wink or a nudge. Adkins seems to understand something that Hollywood doesn’t: undercutting your own brand of insanity with in-jokes serves nobody, and often makes you seem embarrassed by what you’re making. If we can accept wild set pieces and even wilder kills, we’ll likely accept a Ghanan Vampire (one of the many over-the-top assassins) who thinks Mike’s blood is too dirty to even consider drinking.
As DTV’s biggest homegrown star, Adkins is in a place to essentially demand that the action in his films look as good as possible. That comes not only with hiring the best people, but often choreographing the fights and stunt scenes himself. At this point, Adkins does both in the majority of the movies he stars in, but with a passion project like the Accident Man franchise, you can feel how much of his heart and soul is poured into it (bodily safety be damned). Hitman's Holiday like a highlight reel for the Best of Adkins, featuring everything from his patented flying kicks, to imbuing his goofball sense of humor into each brawl. 2022’s been a banner year for action cinema, what with muscular triumphs like Ambulance, RRR, and Top Gun: Maverick, but these are celebrated for their spectacle, their wild stunts and explosions. We’ve been deprived of rock solid fight scenes, and Hitman’s Holiday makes damn sure we don’t exit the year without them.
This thing is stacked with the kind of fights where even the weakest puts $100 million movies to shame. From the opening bell, with Mike being surprised by his assassin assistant, you know you’re in sure hands. It’s not just that DP Richard Bell makes these bloody showdowns look spectacular, it’s that it’s peppered with world class martial artists. This literal murderer's row starts with Adkins, of course, but weak links don’t seem to exist here. Even folks who aren't known for fighting - like Beau Fowler, who plays Poco the Clown - you can see the work that’s been put in to get them into the war zone. Everyone goes into DTV titles knowing the rough edges of the production are more than likely going to stick out, but it cannot be overstated how good the craft behind Hitman's Holiday is. From the gorgeous bursts of color, to the clean, fluid movement of the camera tracking the choreography, it’s fluidly stunning.
Despite filling this with a deep bench of character actors and martial artists, it’s relative newcomer Sarah Chang as Fallon’s violent assistant, Wong Siu-ling, who leaves the deepest mark. Predominantly a stuntwoman and choreographer, Chang explodes into the movie like a ball of lightning, keeping pace with Adkins’ every move. She’s also just as funny, matching him joke for joke. Yet where Fallon's perpetually flabbergasted by his surroundings, she’s fed up with everybody - Mike most of all. She’s delightful, and it’s an immediate star-making performance that signals a refreshing new face in DTV action. If Adkins wants to make 10 more of these, he’s found the perfect Riggs to his Murtagh.
Strong fights and decent action are a dime a dozen in DTV, so what is it about Adkins that puts him a step above his low budget peers? Pride in what he does. He’s not a fading movie star, collecting checks and eating most of the budget. He’s a guy who’s honed his craft in the trenches for so long that even if the movie he’s in is awful, it’s never because of a lack of commitment. He’s been upfront about wishing he’d had more, if any, swings at something major, but he’s never “settling” in DTV. His drive to make each film the best it can be is inspiring, especially when most studios are slashing projects or not greenlighting anything at all. To get away with something that looks and moves as well as Hitman’s Holiday feels almost impossible these days. For every gorgeous Jesse V. Johnson or John Hyams bonecrusher, we have twenty tossed off “geezer teasers” (a label that's now regrettable, given Willis' diagnosis). That ratio used to be much smaller, but as the gulf widens, it’s hard to picture a guy like Scott Adkins not going down swinging. Hitman’s Holiday is a shotgun blast of exciting fresh air, and the only place left for Adkins to try his hand is directing. That prospect should excite the hell out of you.
Brandon Streussnig is a Staff Writer and the Social Media Coordinator for Secret Handshake, whose writing can also be found at Fangoria, The Playlist, and Polygon.