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Blowback (2000)

A lurid little thriller from longtime unpretentious action specialist Mark L. Lester, with enough melodramatic excesses to be fun despite its many formula chases and confrontations. Whitman (James Remar), a Biblical scholar-cum-serial killer, is tried after a string of gruesome murders patterned on the martyrdoms of saints (a gimmick that has turned up in the Messiah TV series) and sent to the gas chamber. However, a covert government agency revives Whitman from near-death, gives him plastic surgery, brainwashes him with a new personality, then deploys him as an assassin. However, the programming doesn't take and Whitman returns to his old stamping grounds (San Diego) to plague his cop adversary Morell (Mario Van Peebles) via the old-fashioned gambit of murdering, in alphabetical order, the jurors and officers of the court who condemned him to death, ultimately planning on the crucifixion of the hero's ex-wife, the prosecuting attorney (Gladys Jimenez). Van Peebles, with a trick hand that seizes up in crises (the villain once used a nail-gun on him), is a glum and uncharismatic hero, though usefully conversant with Biblical clues, but the underused Remar relishes a chance to deliver full-strength psychopathic violence until taken down with a crossbow-fired crucifix. The appealing Sharisse Baker is good in the role of Van Peebles's too-soon-killed-off new partner, but the rest of the supporting cast is rather lower-case.

First published in this form here.

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