Lights Out is a predictable action movie that doesn't try to reinvent the genre or offer anything innovative.
The film follows a homeless veteran who gets involved in underground fighting, leading to a world of crime and danger.
Frank Grillo delivers a strong performance, showcasing his old-school ruggedness and vulnerability.
Lights Out doesn’t try to reinvent the action genre or do something innovative. Even from the trailer, the way the movie sets itself up looks about as predictable as possible. There are no M. Night Shyamalan twists, CGI big boss battles, or Oscar-bait sentimentality in this story. This is all about fists, fights, and fun as Frank Grillo and Mekhi Phifer understand the assignment.
The film follows homeless veteran Michael “Duffy” Duffield (Grillo) who gets into a scrap at a bar. Ex-con Max Bomer (Phifer) notices Duffy’s talents and offers him an opportunity to earn money in the underground fighting world. However, this isn’t as simple as Duffy showing up, beating the snot out of his opponent, and leaving with the winner’s purse, as it unlocks the door to a world of crime where a lot of cash and nefarious players are at stake. At the same, Duffy struggles with the ghosts of his past and what he experienced in his time in the military.
Frank Grillo remains one of the most underrated actors in the action genre. He possesses an old-school ruggedness and sensibility in how he approaches his characters and this is on display in Lights Out. It’s in the way he walks, talks, and through his subtle actions in key parts. Duffy is a tough guy, through and through; a man’s man if you will. However, Grillo displays vulnerability at pivotal points in the story. After all Duffy experienced in his past, he doesn’t want others in his orbit – not because he’s a loner, but out of fear the same will happen to them like his old army pals.
Phifer plays off this angle perfectly. Max sees an opportunity to make money off Duffy, but he also respects him for his service to the country. He doesn’t hide behind Duffy when the going gets tough, as he stands right alongside him. While Max might not have the fighting prowess of Duffy, he never backs down – which also earns him Duffy’s respect and friendship in the long run.
In terms of villains, Dermot Mulroney nails the sleazy crime boss demeanor as Sage Parker. From the moment he walks on screen, it’s obvious no one should trust him and he will sell out his own mother for another condo. Sure, Mulroney hams it up and accentuates the cowardice of his character and cartoonish villainy, but considering the nature of the movie and the story, it works well and makes the character memorable.
As mentioned earlier, Lights Out plays out as expected, as Chad Law and Garry Charles’ script doesn’t leave much room for surprises or thought-provoking dialogue. There’s an attempt to humanize the characters and lean into the drama aspect, but these moments don’t receive enough time to breathe as the action eclipses everything else. There are characters that do despicable things in the movie with the only real explanation being – to quote Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad – “We’re bad guys; that’s what we do.” Like a throwback to ’80s action movies, most characters come across like action figures rather than real people.
Director Christian Sesma brings Lights Out to life in the action, though. While there are one or two fights with an annoying number of quick cuts and camera jerks, the parts where he lets the fights play out longer are where the juice is at. Evidently, the filmmaker must have played a lot of Mortal Kombat 1 recently because he utilizes the slow-mo X-ray shots for when Duffy connects killer blows on his opponents. That said, Sesma makes it more realistic, because after landing those hits, it’s – pardon the pun – lights out for the people, while in Mortal Kombat they would carry on with a spear lodged in their skull.
In terms of the action, another aspect that needs to be discussed is the inclusion of Scott Adkins as Don “The Reaper” Richter. While Adkins features heavily on the poster and press material, his role is relatively small in the film. His moments don’t disappoint – especially in the flashback sequence – but if anyone is expecting him to have a major part and influence here, it doesn’t happen.
Lights Out roundhouse kicks its way into theaters, on digital, and on demand on February 16.
A drifting ex-soldier turns underground fighter with the help of a just released ex-con, pitting them both against a crime boss, corrupt cops and hired killers.
Studio: Firebrand, Quiver Distribution
Running Time: 1h 30m
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Cast: Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Scott Adkins, Jaime King, Mekhi Phifer, Amaury Nolasco
Director: Christian Sesma
Writers: Chad Law, Garry Charles, Brandon Burrows
Genre: Action, Thriller
Box Office: N/A
Much like any other B-grade action film, Lights Out cannot be accused of being a pretender, since what you see is what you get. This movie is here for a good time, not a long time, and that's exactly what it provides. Grab the popcorn, pump up the volume, and enjoy all the testosterone that soaks the story.
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.