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Prince, The

D: Brian A. Miller / 93m

Cast: Jason Patric, Bruce Willis, Jessica Lowndes, John Cusack, Gia Mantegna, Jeong Ji-Hoon, Johnathon Schaech, Don Harvey, Tyler J. Olson, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

Paul (Patric), a mechanic working in a small town in Mississippi, has an only daughter, Beth (Mantegna), away at college.  She’s due home for a weekend visit but she fails to show up.  Worried that something has happened to her, Paul travels to the college and checks her room, where he finds a picture of Beth and another girl outside a bar.  He goes to the bar and in time the girl turns up.  Her name is Angela (Lowndes), and while she can’t tell Paul where Beth is, she does know that she was seeing a dealer called Eddie (Olson).  She helps him track Eddie down to New Orleans, and in the process, comes to learn that Paul isn’t just a mechanic, but that he has fighting skills she’s never seen before.

When he finds Eddie, Paul discovers that Beth has left him to go live with a more dangerous drug dealer known as the Pharmacy (Jackson).  Paul pledges to rescue her and tries to persuade Angela to go back home, but she refuses.  Meanwhile, Paul’s arrival in New Orleans is reported to ruthless crime boss Omar (Willis).  Twenty years before, Paul was responsible for the deaths of Omar’s wife and daughter.  Now, Omar sees his chance for revenge.  Paul seeks help from old friend, Sam (Cusack) while he goes to rescue Beth.  He discovers that the Pharmacy has been told by Omar to keep Paul there, but he takes Beth and escapes during the subsequent gunfight.  Back at Sam’s, and as they’re preparing to leave, Omar’s second-in-command, Mark (Ji-Hoon), ambushes them and manages to get away with Beth.  Paul follows him to Omar’s, and a final confrontation between the two.

Prince, The - scene

At ninety-three minutes, one thing that The Prince does have in its favour is a fairly short running time.  Otherwise, this is yet another heavily padded, strictly by-the-books crime thriller with an invincible hero, a bad-ass villain, and a damsel in distress. With such a predictable nature, the movie struggles from the outset to provide its audience with anything new or different, even down to the scene where Omar has an employee killed for being out of line, just so we know how bad-ass he is (the fact the employee is standing next to a pool and looks incredibly nervous is also a bit of a giveaway as to what’s going to happen).

As the titular Prince, Paul is a methodical, no-nonsense, quietly threatening ex-hitman who hasn’t lost his touch, but who is also hard to like and thanks to Patric’s portrayal and the script’s lack of humour, comes off as colourless and remote.  When he rescues Beth from the Pharmacy there’s so little emotion he might as well have been retrieving a can of peas he’d left behind at the grocery store.  Paul is a character who seems estranged from everyone except Beth, and even then he seems to be trying a little too hard, as if he can’t quite work out if he’s doing things in the right way or not.  It makes his interaction with Angela unnecessarily stilted and repetitious, and their scenes together suffer accordingly.

Paul’s determination to get Beth back is laudable, but with such a lack of emotion on his part, his efforts don’t have the resonance that even something as contrived as Taken (2008) and its two sequels have (yes, Taken 3 will be with us in 2015).  What emoting there is in the movie is left to Angela – who keeps saying how shocked she is by each turn of event or revelation – and Omar, whose need for revenge is almost pathological (though as usual, he holds off on killing Beth long enough for Paul to turn the tables on him).  Lowndes is okay, but Angela is a character that never rings true, allowing herself to go with a man she doesn’t know to New Orleans for $500, and who stays around when the bullets start flying and the bodies start piling up.  Willis plays Omar as controlled at first but soon ramps up the ham, and by the movie’s end he’s dispensed entirely with characterisation and gone completely for caricature.

With minor support from Mantegna (sidelined for most of the movie), and Cusack (winning this year’s Nicolas Cage Award for Worst Hairstyle), The Prince ticks all the boxes when it comes to low-budget movie-making, with its dull, uninspired script courtesy of Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore; poorly edited and choreographed action sequences (the showdown between Paul and Mark is the worst example); trite, repetitive dialogue; clumsy framing and photography; lacklustre direction; and the kind of approach that almost screams “Doing it purely for the money!”  Several moments are of the wince-inducing variety (e.g. Jackson’s attempts at acting), and despite all the gunplay and dead bodies, not one police officer makes an appearance at any point in the proceedings, which only serves to highlight the improbability of everything that happens.

Rating: 3/10 – a nail in the coffin of several careers (though probably not the last one), The Prince is a ham-fisted attempt at an urban western but without any of that genre’s appeal or distinctive flavour; entirely derivative and short on imagination, this is one crime thriller that can safely be avoided.